Ros Scott writes… Party President’s report to members, September ‘09

September is the transition month from the quiet of the summer recess to the hustle and bustle of Regional and State Party Conferences, although the past month was still pretty busy.

The month started with a weekend series of visits in the West Midlands, first up being an early evening members’ meeting in Stratford-upon-Avon on the Friday, hosted by local PPC and Chair of the Parliamentary Candidates Association, Martin Turner. The next morning, stopping only for coffee with Martin to discuss some issues related to candidate recruitment, selection and retention, I was off to West Worcestershire to meet the victor of the District by-election that week, before heading to Malvern for a dinner with members.

Richard Burt is our PPC there, and is optimistic about his chances of pulling off a victory against the Conservatives. Sunday saw us head to Hereford to meet Sarah Carr, who is fighting hard to retain Paul Keetch’s seat, although boundary changes have been less than kind.

The next week saw me in Bedford, where the unexpected death of the independent mayor has given us an opportunity to gain only our second directly elected Mayor. David Hodgson, a long-time stalwart of the Party, both in Bedford and in his former role as a key employee of the English Party, is our candidate, and there is every chance that he can win. Your help, if you haven’t gone there already, could make all the difference, and I’m particularly pleased that Liberal Youth are organising a campaign weekend to support him.

I was only able to fit in one more event before Federal Conference, but it was an interesting one. I was welcomed to Esher & Walton by Danny Alexander’s grandfather, who had joined the Liberal Party in 1936, as well as his uncle. Little was I to know that, within a week, I would meet four generations of Danny’s family.

Conference

Of course, whilst the MPs are busy at our Federal Conference, the Party President is too, with a set speech, a role in the Rally, the duty of opening and closing the event, awards to present and the report from the Federal Executive to move. On top of that, there are various committee meetings, rehearsals and a series of fringe meetings to chair or speak in.

I opened Conference in the company of Annette Brooke, MP for the neighbouring constituency, who graciously rose above the genteel rivalry between the two towns to welcome us to Bournemouth. One thing that has changed for the better about Conference is that, in the old Liberal Party days, the President chaired every session. I must thank Federal Conference Committee for their efforts in relieving me from that task, amongst the huge range of tasks they undertake.

The Rally went very well, and Floella Benjamin’s first speech to a major gathering of Liberal Democrats, and Karen Hamilton, who we hope can win Birmingham Perry Barr, kept things upbeat, before Charles Kennedy‘s speech, which demonstrated just why he was recently voted as one of the two most-missed former frontline politicians. Many people have already commented on Nick’s performance, so I will only add that coming on immediately after Charles requires great confidence and assurance, and Nick demonstrated both.

I was pleased with the reception that my speech got. (You can watch the YouTube video here). Ironically, it was my first ever speech at an Autumn Conference in any capacity. It was a pleasure to be able to reach back through the years to recall a series of events, people and thinking that have shaped our Party, especially when the Conservatives are trying to steal our progressive clothing. With two hundred years of tradition behind us, it is right that we should loudly condemn their audacity in claiming to be a home for liberals. Many thanks must go to Duncan Brack, David Walter and Gordon Lishman for their help, support and advice, which made the speech what it was.

I presented a series of awards to local activists and parties;

* Richard and Maureen Hoskins from Redbridge,
* Sue Baring from Westminster,
* South East Cornwall for recruiting,
* Jeanette Sunderland from Bradford

and was really pleased to invite my colleague in the Lords, John Alderdice, to present Eric Avebury with the Liberal International Prize for Freedom. Eric is an astonishingly vigorous campaigner for oppressed peoples all over the world, and is known wherever human rights activists gather. A read of his blog demonstrates that, even at the age of eighty, he is still setting a pace that would exhaust many half that.

There was a brief meeting of the Federal Executive, dealing with reports from ALDC and about EARS.

I ended the month in India, as part of a delegation organised under the auspices of the Liberal Democrat Friends of India and hosted by the Ministry for External Affairs of the Government of India. I’ll cover that in next month’s report though …

* Ros Scott is President of the Liberal Democrats.

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