Sarah Ludford: my first party conference memories

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My first conference was 25 years ago, in Bournemouth, and coincided with my husband Steve Hitchins and I moving to Islington. Steve was a few months behind me in joining the party, so I was on my own in Bournemouth 1982. It remains my favourite location and the repository of my fondest memories, partly because I had such a good time but also because it represents the beginning of my journey as an activist in the Liberal Democrats.

I was in fact only part-based in the UK at the time as I worked for the European Commission in Brussels and in 1982 I represented ‘British Liberals in the Community’ as we called ourselves. The thing I remember most was acting like a kid in a sweet shop, rushing around all the fringe meetings and thinking how exciting it was. I had no responsibilities, I knew hardly anyone (so I could talk to anyone I liked), I had no meetings to go to. I think the weather was gorgeous, and I had a ball.

Bournemouth was also fateful for me because we were there again in 1991 when I tossed my hat in the ring to be a byelection candidate in Clerkenwell ward in Islington. Steve by then had been not only secretary of Islington, but chair of London region and was the main organising force in Islington and one of our only 3 councillors, since we had a terrible merger and lost 13 seats in 1990. We had already run Labour very close in a couple of byelections in 1991 (not least the magnificent Margot Dunn!) and now we were going to get the b*****ds out.

To cut a long story short, we did, and from 4 seats in 1991 we went on to gain control of Islington Council with 27 seats in 1999. I remember precisely where I was in Bournemouth when I said I wanted to fight Clerkenwell; the memory is a sweet one!

* Baroness Sarah Ludford is a Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for London.

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