Spring Conference highlights

Conference rallyI’m home from York, having had about 7 hours’ sleep in the last two days. That’s not entirely due to hanging round in bars late at night with lovely people. When you are making the most controversial speech of the entire Conference, that tends to dominate.

For the second time in two years, I arrived in York to brilliant sunshine. Sadly, I didn’t get to enjoy any of the city at all. In an ideal world, I would have gone down on Thursday, had some dinner with friends and spent Friday sightseeing. One of these days I will get myself organised so that I’m not still writing speeches and doing all my pre-conference prep right up until the very last minute.

If I find myself in York again, I am definitely going back to the Barbican Guest House. Two minutes’ walk from the Conference Centre, spotlessly clean, comfortable, wonderful breakfast and a dog to pet. What more could anyone possibly want? How about a crystal decanter of sherry in the room? I am not kidding.

Here are some of my best bits of the weekend:

The rally

The first big event was Friday night’s rally. Billed as an INtogether event with Tim Farron, Catherine Bearder and “surprise guests” we did wonder what we were letting ourselves in for.

There were four guests:

Eluned Parrott, the fantastic Welsh AM, described how she was called an elitist by a Brexit campaigner – who then drove off in a Porsche. She reminded us that things we take for granted, like maternity leave, have their basis in the EU. She talked about the authoritarian instincts of Labour and the SNP and implored people to go and help in the London, Scottish and Welsh elections.

There was the  amazing Lauren Pemberton-Nelson who was our candidate in a recent Southwark by-election. She is basically me 30 years ago except with more talent. She said she wanted to go canvassing instead of doing her A levels. I remember that feeling.

A new member called Mohsin who has just given up being a city lawyer to practice criminal law, talked about the positive impact of the Pupil Premium and also about how a year studying in Holland through the Erasmus scheme had been such a positive thing for him because he’d been able to come out and change his life.

Dr Saleyah Ahsan is a new member and a junior doctor. She invited us to go and stand with her as she works a shift in A & E, and go to the loo when she does and eat when she does. Or doesn’t. She implored the Liberal Democrats to do more to back the junior doctors – and Tim certainly responded very strongly in his speech today. So, junior doctors should now know that they have 60,000 or so Lib Dems behind them.

The Diversity Debate

The most controversial hour and a half of the Conference. Who would have thought that the Lib Dems would back all-women shortlists (in fairly modest terms) on the same day that Jeremy Clarkson basically came out as a federalist? Can today get any stranger?

I was pretty nervous about speaking. Butterflies were in my stomach doing tug of war with each other on a trampoline from Saturday evening. However, once I got up there, I quite enjoyed it, although watching it back was excruciating because I cringed at every fluffed line or stumble.  There was also an underlying sadness because I knew I was proposing something I passionately believed in but with which a fair few very dear people to me equally passionately disagreed.

There were fantastic speeches on both sides. Several young women from Liberal Youth spoke wearing “I am not a token woman” t-shirts. I always knew Alex White in particular would get up on the rostrum, without notes, and make a compelling speech. She and other young women talked about the casual sexism and unwanted attention that they had experienced within the party. Every female member of Liberal Youth, they said, had had endured that, they said.  That has to be tackled and I certainly intend to talk to them and find a way of dealing with it.

I have to be honest, I was not especially confident that our view would prevail. Certainly, our collective experience in the bars on Friday night was that this would be a tough sell. Tim Farron and his team knew this. He could have bailed. Instead, he talked about it at every fringe and his Q and A and put a card in for the debate. In a debate on gender quotas for party committees in 2014, Tim had given a very flat kind of speech, Today’s was an absolute barnstormer. He said he needed to lead a diverse team of MPs.

In the end the motion was passed by some margin without much in the way of hostility and rancour. I have every admiration and respect for all the Liberal Youth women. There is not much between me and them in terms of analysis of the problem. We just have different solutions.

New members

For the second Conference in a row, there were so many new faces, everywhere. When Mike German asked during today’s appeal to put their hands up if they were a new member, one in five did so. They made some astonishingly good speeches in debates and on the fringe. The Your Liberal Britain initiative held two big sessions where members were encouraged to share their vision of what a liberal Britain would look like and what it would mean for people’s lives. This has been set up entirely by new members and they are doing a great job.


I’m glad I had the chance to atone for failing to vote against fracking in Scotland. We know how well that turned out.

Sir Ed Davey’s amendment was pretty heavily defeated in the end.

Constitutional capers

It wouldn’t be a Liberal Democrat conference without some sort of constitutional shenanigans going on.

There were two constitutional amendments being debated on Saturday afternoon. The first came from Mamchester’s Iain Donaldson and Dave Page. They proposed that party bodies like the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and LGBT+ Lib Dems should be able to sign up members to the Liberal Democrats in the same way that Liberal Youth do. Given that we are desperately trying to be more diverse, this seems to be eminently sensible.

A second amendment removing peers’ rights to sit on federal committees had been tabled by George Potter. This is a consequence of the fallout from Chris Rennard’s election to the Federal Executive and subsequent resignation from that position. What George had overlooked is that the peers didn’t have any other way of getting on to Federal Policy Committee and it would be a bit unfair to exclude them. The motion was ultimately heavily defeated.

I haven’t even got to Tim’s speech yet, but we’ll look at that another day.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Mar '16 - 11:18pm


    Congratulations on your speech and on your victory in the debate and vote. I was not at the conference, had I been ,you and your side might have swayed me , not a natural ally of short lists , yet the strength of feeling expressed , and the desire of all of us for a more diverse representation, had to win the day, somehow .

    As Jo Swinson said on here , we all must respect others views .Some have talked of leaving the party over this .Not a thing to do when actually we all agree . Prejudice is wrong , as we are a party that fights it , motives are more important by far than mechanisms.

    The party can move forward and progress from here.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Mar '16 - 11:24pm


    Thank you to Paul Walter , too, a passionate voice on here , often , in this debate also a victorious one , he was very helpful in response to an e mail request on how to view the conference , online , which I did , and thus saw Caron make her speech !

  • John Marriott
    The Lib Dems don’t sound or look like serious politicians so why should the media treat them as such, the coverage was a fair reflection of the public interest. Last weekend was all about Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. They talked about the big issues – the Lib Dems talked about smoking pot, fracking and AWS.

  • Sorry to say malc is right. We look like we are playing at politics again: all self-importance and irrelevance.

  • This is getting embarrassing……once again, John Marriott and malc are right.

    It’s beginning to look like the Lib Dems are becoming an obscure sect pursuing their own tedious obsessions in ever decreasing circles.

    There’s more creativity watching Darlo in the Evo Stik Northen Premier League…………… and I’ve got more confidence they’ll reach the Football League again before the Lib Dems start to win any more seats.

    PS On the subrect of AWS – whatever happened to Jody Dunn of Hartlepoool by-election fame ?

  • Jim Williams 14th Mar '16 - 11:54am

    Delighted that Your Liberal Britain made the highlights list, Caron – thank you!

    YLB is an initiative inviting all members of the party to help shape the Lib Dem vision for the Britain’s future. We can best explain what we stand for not by simply listing our values, but by describing the society we want to build. We know we want to create a fair, free and open society – but what would it look like?

    Every written contribution will go to the central party and will help write a new party vision statement. You can get involved by visiting http://www.liberalbritain.org, by running a discussion event in your area, and by writing for Lib Dem Voice.

    For the latter, send around 500 words on the question “what would a Liberal Britain look like, and how would it improve people’s lives?” to [email protected], and we’ll also publish it on our website.

  • Sorry, but the reason the speech was controversial was because it was a completely manufactured waste of time. No relevance to the public who need Liberal Democracy on the streets. Lots of relevance to internal factions who believe they alone are the answer to our decline.

  • David Raw
    I thought Jody Dunn had left the party, not all that long after the byelection? Others may know more conclusively than me.

  • I’ed agree that the lack of attention was due to the most well discussed issue was a matter of internal party naval gazing (that some of us believe will have the opposite effect to the intended one).

    Interestingly I think the cannabis motion could have generated more interest (it was one fo the topics on the terrible “The Big Questions”) but it appeared to have so little discussion internally it wasn’t going to generate external interest.

  • As David Boyle says in his excellent blogpost today:

    “…there are dangers about avoiding big policy ideas for Liberals. It makes us look as though we are not so much a crusade for the human spirit as a mild ginger group to agonise about it. Or a sharp-suited policy to somehow finesse it in the corridors of power. Without a Big Idea, Lib Dems are in danger of becoming what I sometimes fear they are already – a strange cult dedicated to the worship of existing institutions, without change. A sitting duck for whatever populist or petty Trump comes along next.”

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Mar '16 - 2:48pm


    I watched your speech and discussion and look forward to becoming involved in it , a good , positive initiative.

    What on earth is wrong with having discussions at conference that are for the party first as they at many levels are dealing with wider issues.Whatever people feel about shortlists, and as I have said I was not a strong supporter, these were issues that touch on what kind of party we are and show to the electorate and I respect different views. There was a point when the debate was going too far and could become divisive , it did not , lets unite now.

    Norman Lambs contribution to the conference agenda was a brave and intelligent one , not trivial , something to rally round in a measured and constructive way.

    Some of the posters above are the first to have hobby horses far less important than AWS or drug policy , I have seen threads where Police Commissioners and Nick Cleggs latest speech , have got John Marriot and David Raw apoplectic !


  • Snap, John.

    Mr Cherin should show more respect to his elders and betters such as the noble Greavsie. Tony’s won more elections as a Liberal/Liberal Democrat than Mr Cherin has had hot dinners….. and I bet he could beat him at snooker too. Tony’s only weaknesses are loyalty and supporting Bradford Park Avenue.

    Now I’ve only won five elections ….(never lost a seat once won) – so not in Tony’s league but can claim membership going back to 1961.

    As far as I know I’ve never gone apoplectic, though I’ve often shaken my head at the self-inflicted clangers dropped by this party………….. and they still do it. In the words of the late great Pete Seeger, when will they ever learn ?

  • David Raw

    “In the words of the late great Pete Seeger, when will they ever learn ?”

    Now you’ve just made me dig my Peter, Paul and Mary album out. Happy days and great music.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Mar '16 - 11:18pm

    David Raw

    My respect for the nobility of the lord in question is not lacking , he is a generation older than me , and has a beard like me !
    As does the great Pete Seeger , have a beard , I mean , and as a songwriter and performer myself , with a musical in development with more than one freedom song to my credit , I have added respect for your Rawness , sir , as exemplified in your taste in music !

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Mar '16 - 11:27pm

    John Marriot

    And your worry too is unnecessary , am very aware of your acomplishments , but we all have our hobbyhorses , not the norm but the add on for any politico . And please be careful who you call pc !

    By the way , you are a beardie too am I not right , good sir ?!

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