Tag Archives: Andrew Maclean

Raise a glass in York

Conference has always been a central element in my involvement in the Liberal Democrats. Like many of us, all year round I spend a large proportion of my waking hours doing things for the party – and being able to make links, exchange ideas and, yes, gossip with people from across the country at conference not only makes doing that year-round work easier, but also makes it very very much more fun. I have really missed them over the last three and a half years – with the final cruel punch of the last-minute cancellation for non-pandemic reasons of last autumn’s big return conference feeling particularly unfair.

So I will be thrilled to be back in York this weekend, surrounded by Liberal Democrats.

But as I finally get to catch up again with many of you, I will be giving more than a thought or two to some of those who I will not get the chance to see again at conference.

That last conference we held, in Bournemouth in 2019, “the one where Jo Swinson was leader”, was the last time I saw my former boss, Steve Hitchins, previously Leader of Islington Council. Steve was certainly not about to allow his walking difficulties stop him from getting up on to the stage and telling us how the health policies we were debating seemed to him as a former chair of an acute NHS Trust. Steve tragically and unexpectedly passed away just a few weeks later – a much too early sad loss of one of the party’s most robust campaigners and one of its most effective champions of frontline diversity.

In York I will, as always, go to an LDEG fringe meeting. But I will not see Derek Honeygold sitting – like Ted Heath – in a corner seat on the front row, as he must have done at pretty much every LDEG fringe meeting ever. In March 2020 Derek became one of the first victims of covid. LDEG fringes will not be the same without his twinkling eyes and intriguing contributions to the debate.

When I make it to the bar later, I will not turn round from ordering drinks to see there the beaming smile of Robert Woodthorpe-Browne, long a smiling stalwart of the party’s international scene, with something funny and interesting to say to me. Always so enthusiastic and encouraging, from LI Congresses in Africa and being chair of the international relations committee (FIRC), to the streets of London that I once went canvassing with him on, Robert’s utterly irrepressible energy made a huge contribution to the party before his very sudden death from a stroke this last autumn.

I will not have the chance to sup again from the well of the erudition of Jonathan Fryer – another deeply committed Liberal Democrat internationalist, former chair of the international relations committee and eternally super-enthusiastic MEP candidate. But too a regular BBC broadcaster, public Quaker, lecturer and so many other things – including, astonishingly, biographer and friend of Christopher Isherwood – before his awfully sudden and tragic death from a brain tumour.

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