It had finally arrived. My first Liberal Democrat conference in the beautiful seaside town of Bournemouth.
I sat in the darkened auditorium of the BIC arena next to my fellow Bristol Lib Dems all in anticipation of the Members Rally. Pure adrenaline ran through me as I thought of my packed schedule. I had to make difficult choices of what speeches to hear and what fringes to sacrifice in order to sit through a policy debate. Then Sal Brinton opened the show. To be honest I had not heard much about the party’s president besides the welcome letter I received in my new members pack but she started the rally with a bang.
The rally finished with our newly elected Tim Farron…but we will get back to him later. The most unexpected moment was when Bristol’s Amy Stuart gave a speech to over a thousand members on the reasons she joined the Lib Dems. Only two speeches got standing ovations that day, one was for Tim and the other for Amy. The journey from May 7th to September 19th had been a crazy ride I did not expect to take but as Amy said it has been one of my best decisions.
Afterwards I went to my first of many fringes, this one dedicated to new members. Since May I had been one of 20,000 members who had decided that liberalism was too precious to let it be shouted down by the scaremongering media. I arrived a little after it had started and found the venue was overflowing with enthusiastic new members. I stood in line to get a complimentary glass of orange juice (I am not a wine drinker). In the queue I saw a man with yellow fingernails and decided to talk to him. We were joined later by Alex, a budding politician in the making from Swindon. We had the pleasure to talk to one of the more prominent ex-MPs, the eccentric Julian Huppert, who joined our circle. The highlight of the night was when I was exchanging Twitter details with the guys and when I added @ I realised we already followed and retweeted each other prior to this chance meeting.
The whole experience was surreal to someone who had only declared his allegiance to the party a few months earlier. The mayoral candidate of London, Caroline Pidgeon paced next to me in the lobby of the centre on her mobile phone, “Where are the Bayview rooms? Yeah. Okay, I am heading up there now.” Passing by Nick Clegg in the hallway followed by his assistants, or being stood behind Tom Brake in the lunch queue. I was in the company of some of the greatest liberal minds in the country.
The best part of conference was taking part in the policy motions where members would decide the policies that us, as Liberal Democrats, would campaign for. The process involved hearing a variety of speakers make their point on the policy and any additional amendments. Once the debate had finished the members got to vote for or against the amendments and the policy motion as a whole by raising their VOTING pass in the air. If the policy got enough votes for, then the motion would become an official Liberal Democrat policy.
Most of the policies were straight forward and we managed to get a lot of crucial ones through such as Global Treaty on Climate Change, Creating Safe & Legal Routes for Refugees and Winning in Europe. The most controversial one was the vote on Scrapping Trident. The votes on including the amendment and policy was too close to call. “It is obvious,” the chair started with jeers from the crowd. “Let me finish. It is obvious that a count is needed.” Someone joked, “typical liberal”.
It was amazing to hear some well known figures speak live, as compared to listening to them on YouTube. I heard the Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie speak for the first time and his love for both Scotland and Britain was encouraging. It was also good to hear Norman Lamb again after hearing him speak twice on the leadership campaign trail. Never have I heard a person speak so passionately for the need for mental health to be taken seriously by society. Then there was Nick, with an incredible speech. Despite the unthinkable loss in May, he is still held in high regard by many Lib Dems. His speech was energising, warm and in some parts even funny. This was by far the best moment:
We’ve got UKIP wanting to turn the clock back to the 1950s.
Jeremy Corbyn turning the clock back to the 1970s.
Osborne and Cameron turning the clock back to the 1980s.
And the SNP who want to take us back to the 1600s!
What’s their problem with the twenty-first century??
The speech that stole the show for me was by Welsh Lib Dem leader, Kirsty Williams. I did not know much about Kirsty but I was captivated by her speaking, enriched by her Welsh accent. Her passion for Wales shone through as she spoke of how they were getting left behind with a Labour controlled assembly with the longest waiting times in Britain and the worst standards of schooling. We also shared the same affection for the great David Lloyd George. Later in the day I bumped into her. I congratulated her on what was an excellent speech and how it touched me as I grew up in Cardiff. She thanked me and told me, “if you want to help us out in the campaign, I will find you a place to stay.”
Then there was THAT speech. The speech that many senior Lib Dems labelled as the best debut conference speech by any leader. Following in the steps of giants such as Clegg, Ashdown and Kennedy, that is a huge compliment. I will not attempt to describe Tim’s speech in words, it would do it no justice. Instead I have attached a link to the full speech and I have included a video of the most powerful moment. It hit me in my gut and brought me to my feet in applause.
What an amazing conference it had been. An opportunity to meet great human beings and take back wonderful memories. Never have I been so inspired or so proud to be part of a movement. A liberal movement.