The following is my uncensored account of the Liberal Democrats Autumn Conference 2016.
The Night Before – Lib Dem Pint
After four hours and three trains I stepped out onto the platform in Brighton. It was dark, chilly and I was running late for Lib Dem Pint.
It was getting late and I was cursing myself because I was missing all the speeches.
Ben let me into our AirBnB accommodation and then quickly dashed off as he had two drinks waiting for him. I freshened up and left the basement apartment that was a stones throw away from the beach. As I was walking along with the coastline on my left, I thought it was odd that Google Maps was telling me that the bar was at the end of Brighton Pier. The front of the gates to the pier was deserted, except for a stout security guard who questioned me when I approached.
“Are you with the Liberal Democrats?”
He gave me a quizzical look and told me to follow the railing all the way until the end of the pier. The moon lit up the high waves that swept by as the coastline disappeared the closer I got to the bar. The hustle and bustle of a pub broke the eerie night silence and I popped my head in. It was absolutely packed with smiling liberals all facing Tim while he embarked on a trademark anecdote that drew a big laugh from the crowd.
I was certainly going to hear Tim speak a couple of times over the next few days so I made a beeline to the bar. There I bumped into a friendly face, Eva, one my temporary housemates. After exchanging pleasantries she asked me to follow her.
Pushing through the dense congregation of conference goers we fell onto a sofa right next to the stage. I greeted my other housemates Phil, Felix, Ellie and Dom while I watched on as Tim took some questions from the crowd. Staring around the room, I noticed faces that I had only seen on social media. Across the floor I saw Ross, who was one of the driving forces behind the win in Tupton, North East Derbyshire only the previous night.
The election results since the EU referendum have been outstanding. The Liberal Democrats had won 15 by-elections and lost none compared to Labour, Conservatives and UKIP all having a net loss. Rarely does a week go by without seeing Liberal Democrat GAIN on Britain Elects.
After Tim wrapped up, a man came over and start speaking to me as if I was a lifelong friend. It dawned on me it was my good pal, Hilton from the Lib Dem Newbies who I had not met in person until then. This would be a common occurrence over my time at the conference. Later in the evening, I met the mother of the Lib Dem Newbies, Daisy, and she branded me with a Newbie sticker. Now I knew what the cool kids felt like at school.
Lib Dem pint was a regular social event created by the new generation of Liberal Democrats that joined the party, commonly known as the Lib Dem Newbies. Thousands of new members joined the party last year after the General Election and then again this year after the EU referendum. There is a comradery in the group that is unlike anything I have experienced before. From the moment you join the Facebook group, you feel welcomed and inspired to get involved in local activism.
Alex, a regular newbie activist, joined me with a hearty handshake. I had first met Alex at my first conference at the new members fringe, casually talking with Julian Huppert. It is crazy to think how far we had come in our first year in the party and now we were here to welcome in the next generation. We may have joined either to fight for liberalism or for Europe but the new members were united in making their country and communities a better place. In the face of Brexit, the rise of Corbyn’s socialism and May’s surveillance tendencies, it has never been more exciting or necessary to be a Liberal Democrat.
The bell sounded for last orders so we went in search of another bar. Along the way we came across the conference centre. If I wasn’t enthused for the next four days, I was now.
To be continued…