Two priceless conference comedy moments (for about five people on the surface of Planet Earth)

Colin Rosenstiel is a Lib Dem legend, star of constitutional minutiae and progenitor of bicycling anecdotes.

At 9am yesterday, there was a constitutional amendments debate. (Yes – riveting. A few minutes before it was due to start, the audience would have been out-numbered by those six Liberal MPs who could get into a taxi in 1970. The debate started with the words, “Good morning, fellow insomniacs!”)

At the end, Colin stood up and raised a point of order – the Lib Dem equivalent of firing a tactical nuclear weapon. Something about a separate vote. The comedy moment was the withering, over-the-top-of-the-glasses dismissal of this point of order from Chair, Chris Maines.

It’s not in accordance with standing orders, which you, better than anyone, should know, Colin.

After repeating the dismissal, Colin still kept insisting. Then Chris Maines, normally someone for whom you would say ‘Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth’ – but who turns into a fearsome pernicketition when in the conference chair, merely said “I now move to the vote”, leaving Colin Rosenstiel standing there like a lemon. You can’t trump the conference sound system by shouting. You just look silly.

It was a priceless comedy moment, sadly beyond the comprehension of all but about ten people on the Planet Earth.

Then there was Tony Greaves. The man who puts the “c” in curmudgeon. Bless him. A legend in his own lunchtime. He co-wrote the preamble to the party constitution, as he never misses an opportunity to remind us. He made a very good speech. Very good.

Background: Speakers have a time limit. With one minute to go, you get an orange light. Then at full-time you get a red light. If you go on the red light flashes a bit and the chair says “please draw your remarks to a conclusion”. Then if you go on they say “please close your remarks” then if you still go on, they cut off your microphone so you are stood there like a Rosenstiel. So, it’s a bit like a plane on a runway where there are loads of lines and lights at the end, and then finally you hit the barrier. The cutting off of the mike is the barrier.

When you’re a first time conference speaker it is understandable if you over-run. When you’ve made hundreds of conference speeches like Tony, you only over-run when you wilfully extract the Michael – some might say, because you wrote the preamble and you think you can get away with it.

After getting the full house of warnings and lights described above, Tony still blagged his way on until finally they cut off his mike and he was left speaking without amplification. That tends to make someone look a bit daft. Cutting off a legend! Crikey! …I enjoyed it anyway.

For the record, with the aid of lip-reading, it can be reported, in the interests of free speech, that after his mike was cut off, Tony said:

Be careful what you wish for.


* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Conference.


  • I guess you had to be there.

  • Simon Titley 26th Sep '12 - 10:37am

    Laugh? I thought I’d never start.

  • Keith Browning 26th Sep '12 - 2:59pm

    Paul – you need to get out more..!!

  • Matthew Green 27th Sep '12 - 10:09am

    And I was there on both occasions. I wouldn’t describe it as comedy, but as a sign of how the party is moving on. Conference used to indulge Colin and Tony. But the way that Tony in particular ploughed on regardless, expecting to be indulged, started gentle heckling round where I was sitting. What arogance to expect that the rules on speaking should not apply to him when they were being enforced on everybody else.

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