Opinion: SLF Conference – a brilliant day focused on social liberal ideas

img_8090The Social Liberal Forum is, sadly, a point of contention in the Liberal Democrats for some. The candidate who went first at the leadership hustings towards the end of the conference was chosen by how fast they could name the former special advisor to Nick Clegg who made the case that all Social Liberals in the Lib Dems should join Labour (it was Richard Reeves, by the way, & he said it here). Reeves’ comments  show how far up in the party those critical of SLF are & how scathing their attacks can be. Nevertheless, I do wholeheartedly identify as a Social Liberal, so despite claims of the SLF attempting to turn the Lib Dems ‘socialist’ that I had heard from other members, I attended the conference & discovered I couldn’t have made a better decision.

Firstly, I was struck with how damn trendy the conference building was. It was hosted in the Amnesty International Human Rights Centre, & with all its exposed black bricks & flat-white-selling cafe’s I had to check if I was in the right building for a Lib Dem event. Thankfully it was, so I was escorted into the main room for the famous SLF Annual Beveridge Memorial Lecture, this year presented by Baroness Claire Tyler, but not before a quick remembrance to that champion of Social Liberalism, Charles Kennedy. It was done not with a 1 minute silence, but a 1 minute applause to recognise his achievements, which definitely captured his spirit & energy better than any mourning could have done. The Beveridge Lecture itself was intensely interesting, going over Beveridge’s 5 great evils in the modern day (squalor, ignorance, want, idleness & disease – the antiquated language of which was a large point of the lecture) & reminding us that a higher & higher GDP can’t alone tackle these issues, but national wellbeing should always be a priority too.

Next for me came the Liberal Youth Fringe, which transpired as a genuinely lovely round-table discussion about Social Liberalism in the party, how Liberal Youth operates both within & outside it, and what we can do to strengthen that bond. After this a brief but fab lunch in the office’s atrium occurred then I was off to the seminar room for a session regarding how equality is best achieved, opportunity or outcome.  Many fantastic points were made about how organisations like co-op’s can achieve both.  However a firm conclusion, to my surprise, did not emerge.

Finally, a session on Political Pluralism with the former Conservative MEP Tom Spencer,  Sue Goss from Compass and, most interestingly of all to me given his name being thrown around when campaigning in Cambridge (his former seat), the former Lib Dem MP & academic David Howarth. You’d think a presentation relying so heavily on the 5 or so election analysis graphs that were used may run dry after an hour however this team managed to create a lively, interesting & ultimately hopeful discussion about how we must not let political tribalism undermine what we all wish to achieve in the next few years, which ultimately is a more progressive Britain. There was a brief refreshments period before the absolutely fantastic leadership hustings I’ve previously alluded to where both candidates truly showed their strengths. Both candidates denounced Richard Reeves’ statement, Norman following his correct answer with a simple ‘He was wrong’ & Farron blaming his failure to answer to him forgetting him being ‘probably a good thing’. My own choice will hopefully be obvious to most given my campaigning for him, however this debate confirmed for me that there is truly no-one else I’d rather come second to Tim Farron than Norman Lamb.

The SLF conference was truly a marvellous event. Despite what others may claim, SLF does not exist in opposition to other organisations or individuals in the party & wishes to set a clear, socially liberal agenda for the party, with which I wholeheartedly agree. Events like these make me so happy to be part of an inclusive, generally positive party and I look forward to attending next year.

* Callum Delhoy was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Daventry in the 2015 General Election and is active in Liberal Youth

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  • Great article. The Social Liberal Forum doesn’t want to make the party socialist….. it wants to maintain its status as social liberal!!!!

  • Mark Blackburn 8th Jul '15 - 6:45pm

    I’m so encouraged by the number of new contributors (to me, anyway) waxing lyrical about the SLF. I joined soon after May 2010, not to be a part of a faction or a closet socialist, but to help try and foment a liberal, not just social liberal, agenda within the difficult confines of Coalition. By and large, I believe SLF achieved this – pension reform, NHS policy dilution and positive influence on economic policy, to name a few. Now during #libdemfightback SLF’s role is just as important – to ensure we rebuild a party with the ethos of Beveridge and Keynes, which has a social liberal agenda of wellbeing and genuine fairness at its heart, and not some Tory-lite unfettered free-market vehicle on a highway to electoral oblivion.

  • Callum Delhoy 8th Jul '15 - 8:53pm

    Thank you! & I agree, the SLF is indeed an integral part of the Liberal Democrats, now more than ever, and I hope it can play as wide a role as possible in the rebuilding over the next five years.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Jul '15 - 9:09pm

    Leadership candidates shouldn’t attend SLF or LF conferences. It endorses factions.

  • Daniel Henry 8th Jul '15 - 9:56pm

    I take the opposite view Eddie, I think that the leaders should engage with member organisations on all sides. There would only be a problem if they took a particular side.

  • SLF, LR and the Liberal Democrats all have one thing in common; they are what you make of them. It would be unfair to stereotype the whole organisation based on the foibles of the few.
    As far as I am concerned as one of the organisers of SLF conference, this is an event for all Liberals, whether left or right, whether inside or outside of the Liberal Democrats, and for that matter including those who are in other political parties. If we all believed in the same thing there would be no debate, so you are welcome to come along and challenge us with your point of view that is different to ours.

  • Tony Dawson 9th Jul '15 - 8:22am

    I cannot understand how anyone has any time at all for John Bercow. Doesn’t he represent much the same constituents as did the late Robert Maxwell? Poor souls.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Jul '15 - 9:24am

    One of the things that happened at the time of the merger was that the SDP had a central organisation and the Liberal Party had a weak centre with lots of associated organisations . The Liberal Democrats therefore has lots of AOs and SAOs They all have their own memberships and subscriptions, needing treasurers, secretaries, chairmen and women.

    During the early days of the merged party I joined many of them to try to listen to what they had to say, for instance sitting on the floor for two days at a weekend conference of what was then called the Green Democrats.

    The problem for either, or both, leadership candidate/s is structural and political. Many of these organisations have fringe meetings at federal conference, but simultaneously, so that difficult choices need to be made. Attending the first part of one fringe event and the remainder of another can look like walking out while a prominent person is speaking. not intended, but unavoidable.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '15 - 9:56am


    Thank you, but in the holy of holies there is also the ALDC and many other organisations that can consume all the time, money and effort of our activists. These associated organisations can achieve consensus among themselves, but still lack democratic legitimacy among the party as a whole. There was also the John Stuart Mill Society, ….

  • Simon Banks 19th Jul '15 - 9:50pm

    Let’s all pretend to be exactly the same as one another and not to have any differences of approach. No. Unlike Eddie, I welcome debate within the party being promoted by different groups. Not to recognise that there are differences in approaches to and conceptions of Liberalism is unfortunate, because there are such differences and that isn’t a bad thing. Now if the SLF had endorsed Tim Farron and the Centre Forum or Liberal Reform had endorsed Norman Lamb, plus full slates for party elections, yes, we’d have damaging factions. But we don’t. The SLF conference was a marvellous gathering of Liberals full or ideas and questions. And it doesn’t bother me if other Liberals disagree with some SLF approaches, only if they suggest we shouldn’t exist.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Jul '15 - 11:09pm

    Just to respond to Simon: debate is good, but in my view the SLF has got so big and powerful that it has become a party within a party. It is not just like a Facebook group or something. The same goes with LR. That is just my opinion anyway. It is different to a specialist support group too because it is about the fundamental values of the party.

    Anyway, the party has bigger problems to solve, which won’t be resolved until Labour choose’s its next leader, so I shall leave you to debate it for a bit. Unless I see an important reason to intervene.

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