My heart pounded as I left the stage. A man walked up to me. “Hi mate, what’s your name? I’m doing the summation for the motion and want to mention you.”
“Ryan,” I said.
“Great, thanks!” He ran back to his spot in the front row. I take my seat and let out a sigh of relief. The next speaker spoke in the background but the words washed over me without meaning. My phone vibrated in my pocket. A message from the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Bristol South, Ben Nutland.
“Congratulations on the fantastic speech! I just watched it on BBC Parliament.”
But let’s rewind to the start.
Autumn means conference season in the world of British politics. I was in one of my favourite seaside towns, Bournemouth, for the Liberal Democrats conference and I was excited to get started. It had been an unyielding year with a Metro Mayor campaign directly followed by a snap General Election that caught everyone off guard. All with the backdrop of Brexit negotiations that had gone nowhere. After a few months off, I was ready to get back to fighting for a better Britain.
It wasn’t even 11 AM yet on the first day when I found myself having a cup of coffee (that’s covfefe to my American friends…is that from Nambia?) with Wera Hobhouse and her team. Wera had become the new Liberal Democrat MP for Bath after the General Election and she had moved the first policy motion of the day, ‘Learning to Communicate in English’. I had met her husband, William, a few times during the Remain campaign and always found him to be a friendly and interesting person.
The Liberal Democrats won twelve seats in the recent General Election, a few of them members of parliament for the first time. As well as Wera, Layla Moran and Christine Jardine gave brilliant, uplifting speeches in their conference debuts as MPs.
Yet, there was one speech that stole the show for me. And that was from the former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams. Now, as the new Education Secretary in the Welsh Assembly, she spoke about how the Lib Dems were making a difference in young people’s lives in Wales by securing the pupil premium, doubling it and extending it to children three years of age.
After her speech I spotted Ms Williams in the lobby. I built up my courage and went over to speak with her and ask her for a photo. Chris Featonby, the James Bond of the Lib Dems, took the photo. After I thanked her for all her hard work in the Welsh Assembly she told me I needed to leave Bristol and come back to Wales to help out.
This was not the scariest thing I was to do over the four days.
Early Monday morning, I made my way to the BIC. Lauren, who at this point was sick of hearing me practice my speech, wished me good luck. I entered the main hall and found a seat close to the stage. Sir Ed Davey, the mover of the motion, had started to make his case on why the members should vote for this policy. The motion was named ‘Defeating Terrorism, Protecting Liberties’.
I was to make my conference debut.
I waited patiently for my turn to come. You don’t know if you will speak until your name gets called so all I could do was sit and hope. Twenty minutes into the debate the chair said, “can Ryan Lailvaux please stand by.”
My heart raced. Three minutes until I had to get onto the stage. My brain went into its own zone and I didn’t hear a word the speaker said before me. When it was time, I made my way up the stairs and saw my friend Alex Hegenbarth sat at chair table, he gave me a nod for good luck. I placed my notes on the podium and gazed out across the hall.
Hundreds of Liberal Democrats stared back at me. Time to deliver.
After the debate, I received a lot of positive feedback. This included a few words from former Deputy Commissioner, Lord Brian Paddick, who stopped me later in the day to congratulate me on a great speech and to say he agreed with everything I said.
The best feedback I got was from a middle-aged woman who thought I knew what I was talking about and started to query me about the WhatsApp on her new smart phone.
Play the video below to watch my speech:
Two weeks later, who would’ve thought, that my conference speech would’ve been better than the Prime Minister’s?
Andrew Brown stood smugly in the lobby afterwards. He wore a new jersey of his beloved Denver Broncos. The Broncos had beaten my Cowboys the evening before and he took the opportunity to show off.
I saw Tim Farron in the distance and excused myself from Andrew’s gloating to have a word with him. A group of members had surrounded the former leader of the party and hung around for their chance to talk to him or take a selfie. I spoke to Dominic Buxton while I waited, a young up-and-coming member of the party and campaigner for Europe. It was great to meet more Lib Dem Newbies.
When my chance came, I shook Tim’s hand and said hello.
“Hi Ryan, how are you?” Tim said in his usual upbeat manner.
Did Tim Farron remember my name? This was the fourth time I had spoken to him so maybe he finally recognised me. Or his eyes darted quickly to my member’s ID.
I thanked him for his terrific service to the party as leader and for the tireless campaign he fought on the EU referendum. He told me not to give up hope and continue to make the cause for Britain’s place in Europe. He appeared to be in good spirits after losing to Daisy Benson in the battle of the DJs at the Lib Dem disco.
On the final day, Tim’s successor, Vince Cable, gave his first leader’s speech. It didn’t have the same energy as Tim’s speeches from the previous two years but he came across as a respectable and intelligent man. It even had some humorous moments when he referred to Brexit as “the product of a fraudulent and frivolous campaign led by two groups of silly public school boys…reliving their dormitory pillow fights.”
The eloquence of his words showed his wisdom. He flourished as his time as the Chief Economist for Shell and when he served as the Secretary of State for Business during the Coalition Government. The Liberal Democrats were in safe hands under his guidance.
After Brexit and Trump…Prime Minister Vince Cable doesn’t sound so crazy.