Liberal Democrat Conference – Brighton 2016

The smell of bacon and eggs woke me from my deep sleep. I rubbed my eyes and tried to get my bearings. As I remembered moments from Lib Dem Pint the night before I realised I was in Brighton. This was probably why I had woken up next to Felix on the sofa bed.

After breakfast, I made my way off to the Liberal Democrat conference. It was a beautiful walk on the edge of Brighton’s beach to the conference centre where the Lib Dem logo was unashamedly displayed brightly on the side of the building. After registration I ran into Bristol’s favourite goatee’d man, Andrew. As we were catching up, Tim Farron and an entourage of members walked down the stairs being snapped by a range of photographers. Amy was by his side and would end up being in photos that would be in every media publication across the country.

Classic Amy.

Watching Tim’s speech with Steve and the Bristol Lib Dems.

Day 1 – DJ Jazzy Huppert

By the time Phil and I had arrived at the rally, the auditorium was already packed with many eager Liberals waiting to hear some speeches from the leaders of the party. The highlight was the speech from the newly elected member of the Scottish Parliament, Alex Cole-Hamilton, who is never short of enthusiasm. Especially his impression of Tim Farron Preston accent.

After missing it last year, there was no chance I would pass up the enigma that was Lib Dem disco. The room reminded me of a wedding reception, with a make-shift bar to the side, tables scattered around and a DJ set and dance floor at centre stage. The standard of dancing for the night was set by former Cambridge MP, Julian Huppert, who dazzled the crowd with his unashamedly awesome outfit and dance moves that rivalled Kevin Bacon in Footloose.

If that was not impressive enough, Liberal Democrat figures took control of the playlist as the battle of the Lib Dem DJs commenced. Kirsty Williams stole the show in my humble opinion. How can someone who opens with The Killers’ Mr Brightside ever lose? Sadly it was not to be and the snazzy Jo Swinson took the title for the second year running.

Day 2 – Campaign Essentials

I took the plunge and went on my first conference training courses. I settled on two that deemed suitable as a fresh newbie.

  • Campaign Essentials: Getting Started
  • Identifying an issue: Building a Campaign, Delivering Change

Both were well run and professional. One was run by Richard Cole of the ALDE who I had met on the local campaign trail earlier in the year. A few things I knew already but there were some key points I would take away with me.

Fellow newbie Alex joined me for the sessions and together we created possibly the best poster that covered all local issues. I cannot say he was impressed with my drawings of cars and roundabouts but I believed it was leaflet worthy. The presenters went around the room and asked if anyone had examples of possible local issues that could be campaigned on. Alex raised his hand, “I don’t know if anyone has thought about this but what about potholes?”

If you are newbie I would recommend them for next year.

After all that hard work I had to end the day with a well-deserved extra cheeky Nandos with Will and Steve.

Day 3 –  The Party of Europe

It was another fantastic conference for policy debates and the best was the one on Europe. As a proud Europhile, I campaigned tirelessly for Remain in the EU referendum and wrote pieces about the debate and life after the vote.

Some nice chap gave me a small EU flag that I waved every time a speaker made a good point. It saved my hands a lot of clapping as there were many good points on why Britain’s best place is to be a leader in Europe, not a leaver. It was a pleasure to hear Ming Campbell and Nick Clegg add their perspectives to the argument. Though I joined the party to save liberalism, I am most proud that the Liberal Democrats are the party to embrace its role in Europe and on the world stage.

Later in the evening I attended an IN Together thank-you reception with Catherine Bearder. Before conference begins, I make a shortlist of all the fringes I might be interested in. How I wish I could attend one of those cool, invite-only events. I was stoked when I realised I had received a personal invitation to the IN Together fringe. I met Elaine in the queue who I knew for a long time from following on social media so felt more at ease that I knew someone. Getting close to the entrance I saw a man being turned away for not being on their “list”. Uh oh, the jig was up. I was not going to be on that said list and be turned away.

“Ryan, great to see you again!”

Elliot, who I met when organising a IN Together event in Bristol, appeared from behind the door and welcomed me in. Ryan – 1. Lists – 0. There was a good congregation of Lib Dems sharing their experiences from the campaign trail and discussing what the future holds. Sal Brinton and Catherine Bearder made some uplifting speeches to kick things off. The rest of the event was spent socialising with other Europe lovers and also with Elliot and Harriet from Lib Dem HQ. I finished the night telling Catherine Bearder my broken down bus anecdote.

Now I was back at the flat, worn out and looking forward to my sofa bed.

“We are going to Glee Club,” Eva declared.

“But I am going to sleep.”

“No, we are all going,” agreed Ben smugly.

Now I was at Glee Club. What did I do to deserve this?

“It is easy,” explained music star Kim as she nailed a song in her opera voice. “You can share my song book. This is so much fun. Let me take a picture of these lyrics.”

Kim was right, Glee Club was actually lots of fun. Especially when Simon Hughes took centre stage and sang two songs about himself and then attempted to sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

Day 4 – The Rise of Liberalism

It was another epic conference where I learnt a lot and made many new friends. The highlight was Tim’s speech so I will leave this here.

See you in Richmond Park.

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