Chris Bailey was one of several local Lib Dems who went to the 2015 Party Conference in Bournemouth held from 19th to 21st September. This is his report.
Lib Dem members own their Party and the Conference is where members discuss and make policies. This exercise in simple democracy stands in sharp contrast to the Conservative and Labour Parties whose conferences nowadays are just talking shops with no role beyond publicity. We take our members seriously which is why it was great to see so many of them in Bournemouth. Despite the bad general Election result we had a record attendance and meetings were packed to overflowing. Or maybe it is because of the election result – 20,000 supporters have joined the Party since the election, showing their determination to re-build Liberalism in Britain. At this Conference the Lib Dem fight-back has clearly begun.
500 of these new members were at the Conference and a number spoke in the debates. And how well they spoke, especially some of the students and young people who have been flocking to the Party. So after a difficult election, the Party has clearly got a great future.
Policy debates this time covered some areas where Liberals are agreed that there is urgent need for Governments to take action. The need for example, to build more houses that ordinary people can afford, including more houses for rent by Councils, and to stop the Tories crippling Housing Associations by forcing them to sell off their properties at knock-down prices. Other topics included protecting our human rights from the Tories’ plans to tear up international conventions; our campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in the European referendum; attacking the Tories’ broken promises on funding social care for the elderly, and the importance of preserving and improving services for young people, also under threat from savage funding cuts.
“There is nothing grubby or unprincipled about wanting to win.”
– Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat leader.
But a topic on which there was disagreement and a closely argued debate was Trident. Although all Liberals would like to see a world without nuclear weapons, some favour scrapping Trident immediately whereas others favour retaining Trident, albeit scaled down, until further multilateral treaties on nuclear disarmament can be agreed. The multilateralists won, though it is a subject that will probably come back to Conference in a couple of years.
In addition to the formal debates, Conference includes a host of fringe meetings where, in smaller and less formal settings, you can hear and question Lib Dem celebrities such as Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Paddy Ashdown and Ming Campbell, or hear charities and think-tanks pressing their cases.
There are training sessions on a wide variety of campaigning issues and on a lighter note, a quiz (our team came fourth out of about twenty) and the Glee Club – an exercise in community singing with an emphasis on political and satirical songs which goes on until 2 in the morning for those with sufficient stamina!
There was a moving tribute to former leader Charles Kennedy. Although he had a lower profile in recent years he had been a regular attender and speaker at Party Conference. His thoughtful, principled and down-to-earth approach had always made him a Conference favourite.
But the climax is always the Leader’s Speech at the close of conference. And Tim Farron delivered a cracker which certainly brought tears to my eyes in a way that no Leader’s Speech has done before. I can’t do justice to it in a few words and I recommend that you watch it in full on iPlayer But he reminded us why we are Liberals and why the values that the Party has always stood for matter so much today. I know I made the right choice when I voted for Tim Farron to lead the Liberal Democrats.
To watch Tim’s speech on iPlayer, follow this link and go to coverage of the Conference on 23 09 15 (it begins about 3hours 15 minutes in).
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