Paul Gray's Conference Highlights

Thursday 24 September 2015

As a first time conference goer I approached the event with mild trepidation. I needn't have worried. From arriving on my first day, the second day of the conference itself, I immediately felt at home amongst a collective of people all determined to see liberalism grow on the British political landscape.

Before lunch on that first day I listened to passionate newcomers and experienced politicians alike speak about how they had, and how they were, promoting liberal values across their local communities, the entire country and the whole of Europe. Of particular inspiration was Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in t’Veld. Her party, D66, had faced an almost total collapse a few years ago but were able to recover via a stringent process of remodelling themselves and becoming more business efficient. In 2014 D66 were the most popular Dutch party in the Netherlands' European elections. All of that was achieved just a few years after nearly being wiped off the political map. It was a very strong message to the Liberal Democrats to get the party machine in order and she received a genuinely euphoric standing ovation for her speech.

One of the real standout things about conference which I had no prior concept of was the huge array of fringe events going on. And if you were lucky, you got fed in the process too! There were so many fringe events to choose from that I was really only able to scratch the surface. There were, to name but a few, events for Green politics, youth events, economic events, LGBT events, electoral reform events, secularist events, asylum seeker support events and EU events.  Picking out three in particular:

Feeding Britain and foodbanks: a liberal responsibility - This was an excellent event hosted by the Trusell Trust, an organisation responsible for many foodbanks across the country. Not only do they provide food however, much of their emphasis is on providing real longer term solutions to help people improve their own lives. These include such things as teaching people to cook well for less, a relatively easy thing to do but a basic life skill which many in our society are simply not equipped to do. Growing up with a chef for a mum, this has spurred me personally to get involved with the Trusell Trust and to get teaching!

"After the Storm" - This was Vince Cable, former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, in conversation with Lord Skidelsky, biographer of 'Keynes' and advocate of Keynesian economics. The discussion really centred around what the Liberal Democrats were able to do to curb the Conservatives in government and whether or not Vince was right to have stayed within the government when the Conservatives were determined to follow ideological rather than intelligent policy decisions. If that all sounds a bit complicated, it basically just boils down to the fact that trickle down economics is proven to fail and yet the Conservatives insisted, as they still do now, on continuing with it. The session then moved on to questions from the audience where it became clear that there was a universal feeling that 'Osbornomics' was the result of utter incompetence. Seemingly, if you want to unite a room of liberals who just might have an idea about economics, just mention George Osborne!

Attracting Liberal Youth - This was a workshop held by Liberal Youth available to all party members, young and old. The focus was on how to approach young people to join the party and the overriding message was to be ambitious and to focus more on national and international issues which will have attracted younger people’s attention. As one older member put it quite brilliantly, "They don’t care about pedestrianised town centres, they care about Syria!"

Conference was rounded off by Tim Farron with a truly inspiring speech. Tim has a genuine, down to earth approach and speaks passionately about improving things for everyone. He's not focused on special interests; he doesn’t have any desire to get involved with trade unions or get bought off by multi-millionaires. What he does want to see, and approaches intelligently with evidence based ideas, is a society in which everyone; rich, poor, young and old alike, get a fair crack at improving their lives. As liberals we place huge importance on people taking responsibility for their own actions but we are smart enough to recognise that people can't and won't do that without the right education, life skills and opportunities to control their own destiny. Tim Farron understands that better than anyone.