Seeing as everyone is writing one of these I thought I may as well do a Miliband and join the bandwagon.
During last Spring conference I was Liberal Youth co-Chair and the party spirits were high fresh out of Eastleigh. The mood was largely positive and the pro-Europe message exemplified exactly the type of politics we should be engaging in: focussed and positive. The conference itself was mostly fantastic but a few things did make me unhappy.
Despite Spring conference being substantially miniature in comparison to the larger media focussed Autumn venture, policy debate was alive. This would have been an excellent opportunity to roll out controversial policy motions to put into the 2015 manifesto away from the media glare. Yet the most controversial motion proved to be the immigration motion. This motion veered away from liberal politics and further into populist reactionary politics, exactly what I hoped Lib Dems in government had moved on from. An amendment I summarised called for students from all academic disciplines to be allowed to work in the UK for three years as opposed to just STEM students. Sadly this narrowly fell and made Andrew Stunnell my nemesis. This motion was clearly the most liberal approach to immigration in UK politics but “better than the rest” sadly doesn’t cut it for me.
I was not present for the majority of other debates but was struck with a few peculiarities. A motion on federalism was passed at a conference without Kirsty Williams, Willie Rennie or a large Scottish and Welsh delegation in attendance. As well as this, FCC have still not thought of releasing minutes or increasing transparency in any form. This is something which is imperative given the number of rejected amendments and motions.
Euro Election Branding
This year’s election messaging is risky but definitely the boldest and best we have done in some time. By not shying away and confronting right wing populist euroscepticism head on, we look like a serious grown up party with real political ambitions. Whether or not this will pay off is yet to be seen. The importance of the upcoming televised debates is understated but all in all the IN message is brilliant. Clegg’s speech worked well to encompass this message by linking British values to the EU.
Clegg’s speech filled the inspiration deficit left by the rally. The jokes were dry, the speeches uninspiring, and I struggled to stay awake. This is despite my own 20 second stroll on a train platform featuring in the rally, it really needed some extra oomph. The only real highlight of the rally was the choice of music. Sadly no “Firework” by Katy Perry this year but ABBA certainly made up for it.
Liberal Reform’s “Liberalism” Fringe
Certainly the highlight of conference in my opinion. Ryan Shorthouse articulated some excellent points regarding “conservative liberalism” but it fell flat in comparison to Jeremy Browne and Nick Tyrone. All I really took from it was that I am definitely a liberal democrat and Ryan Shorthouse should probably be one too. Listening to Jeremy Browne was substantially more inspiring than the rally and if I can erase his past at the Home Office from memory, he should probably be a minister. He has returned to top form and I eagerly await the release of his upcoming book.
The lack of fringe competition made this a popular event with attendees from all pockets of the party. This included one member casually knitting and a bearded socks-and-sandals liberal fast asleep in the back row. I spent the opening 20 minutes of the fringe trying to reclaim the Liberal Reform sign up sheets from his sleeping lap. Thankfully I was able the watch the fringe again on Youtube.
The grown up and mature politics by a party of government were offset by the immaturity of “selfies”, buzzfeed articles and Nigel Farage masks. While we certainly need our party to have a soul, it should be the soul of a mature adult. Not the soul of a fourteen year old girl with attention seeking issues. If we continue at this rate Glasgow conference will include a Justin Bieber tribute and Nick Clegg appearing on SMTV:Live. Or whatever the 2014 equivalent is.
Where Was Everyone?
This conference was the most well attended Spring Conference I have been to. Yet I have no idea where anyone was. Seriously. Where was everyone? Where was I? Social media is littered with many friends who were apparently in attendance whom I did not get a chance to see. Sorry if you were one of them. Sorry too if I completely blanked you and walked away. The fame from my Party Political Broadcast appearance didn’t get to my head, I was actually just a bit dazed and confused as to who and where everyone was.
The biggest regret I had was not visiting the city centre more and not getting a chance to catch up with a number of people I was looking forward to seeing (despite only deciding to attend conference a day before it opened). York is a beautiful hipster haven with quaint tea shops and violently strong drinks in its bars. It proved to be the perfect location for the weekend and I certainly feel hopeful for the 2014 elections.
Edit: BONUS. Here’s a photo of me doing a Thick of It style ‘imaginary tits’ hand gesture. Photo credit: Liberal Reform