Day 2 was fortunately not quite as frenetic as Day 1. Not a single MP defected to us yesterday! However, those that did were in highly visible activities throughout the day. Especially visible was the normally demure Chukka! However, all the new MPs were doing this in the meeting and conference hall. It was great to see how relaxed they were and how much at home int heir new Lib Dem family.
This particularly applies to our own MP Luciana Berger who last year needed a police escort at the Labour Party Conference but who yesterday wandered round the exhibition with Tim Farron as her sole bodyguard!!
The drama shifted to the main hall for the big conference debates. The one which has caught the most attention is, of course, the motion which was heavily passed which calls for a manifesto commitment to revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU. It is an absolutely clear position should we win the next General Election. We will then have been given an electoral mandate in 2019 which must take priority over a mandate given in 2016. If we don’t win, we will work with other Parties to secure a second referendum.
Before the General Election we will again work with other Parties to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Much was made of the fact that Johnson is contemplating breaking the law passed by parliament and not asking the EU for a further extension. The rule of law should be upheld by everyone but especially by the Prime Minister
A major debate was held on the Health Service with a huge move from curing illness to the prevention of them. The role of local government both in its official Public Health and in its control of the social determinants of health such as parks, libraries, housing and the environment was repeatedly emphasised both within the motion and within the full 10,000 work paper which lay behind it.
The only elements of controversy came when a group tried to reduce our commitment to the sugar tax and minimum prices for alcohol. There were defeated but with surprisingly high numbers in support of the amendment. When 30% of our 11-year olds are obese and 3% are mobility obese in a way that is life threatening action must be taken. When 43,000 children under 16 have to have extractions of teeth so severe that they need to be done in hospital and the reason for that can be traced to excessive consumption of carbonated drinks.
Taxation policies do not work to deal with issues by themselves but as part of a suite of actions. In fact, they work best when they don’t raise much money with the sugar tax bringing in much less cash than expected as drinks manufacturers reduced astoundingly high levels of sugar to more acceptable ones.
Another favourite topic of mine discussed yesterday was a motion about education through life. This is so important not just for individuals but for our economy. In times gone by you became a joiner or a metal worker or an accountant and you took exams at the start of your career which would last for life. Today everything changes rapidly and yesterday’s skills become redundant and new ones need to be acquired. This means that we all have to want to learn and be prepared to reskill if we want to stay active on the jobs market.
Education, as was emphasised yesterday, is not just about work but about pleasure and leisure. The joys of learning a new subject or how to take up something new are so important for our physical and mental health. The whole of system needs to be rebalanced so that people want to learn and can learn farther than being placed into an examination-based sausage machine.
Prevention rather than cure will also be the subject of a debate on Crime today. I spoke a few days ago to a senior police officer in Merseyside and we agreed that just catching crooks was not a viable policy. As with health prevention crime prevention is the only real way forward. We need to look at the reasons crimes, especially violent crimes, are increasing. We need to deal with the issues that push youngsters into criminal activity inside their families and communities. We need to prevent gang culture not just contain it.
As always part of the pleasure in these events is the ‘family reunion’ element of them. I had dinner last night with relatively new friends like Cllr Kris Brown and Cllr Alana Tormey but also long term friends of more than 40 years like Alderman Paul Clark and Chris Davies MEP.
Being a Lib Dem has never been the easiest path to follow. It was never a great career choice but I am glad that it is a path that I took when I was just 14. My bank balance would have been considerably bigger but my life experiences would have been considerably smaller had I not done so!
So, if you have any doubts about joining the Liberal Democrats contact me and talk about it. Over the past two days 55 people have joined the Liverpool Party – a huge number of new recruits. You can join them to at www.libdems.org.uk//join-local.