I have lost count of how many Liberal, Lib Dem and Young Liberal Conferences that I have been to over the years. They were all memorable (at the time) but over time pass into obscurity leaving only a warm feeling of family and friendship which is renewed time and time again.
I try and remember some of the scares. The Leadership against the rest challenges; the Leader will be brought down if this gets passed nonsense; the Party will collapse for ever if these nutters win clap trap. No one thing that we say or do makes that much difference in the end. There is nowhere else for a large number of us to go. We are liberals. We fit in with neither the authoritarian left (nor the soggy Blairite centre) or the authoritarian and uncaring right. We are where we are and intend to remain here!
But conferences these days are different than the ones in the past. What we say and do can make a difference on government because we are in government. This fact seems to have passed by some of our members.
Government is a messy business. It is a question of compromise. Even if there were a full Lib Dem government in place they would still need to compromise. The compromise would be to meet external circumstances; different priorities for different parts of the party; and different opportunities that have presented themselves along the way. That’s real life – that’s responsible government. It’s what most councillors have had to do in control or joint control.
This afternoon (Saturday) we will see a childish petulance when an attempt will be made to suspend standing orders to allow a resolution on the Health Service instead of a discussion. This will do nothing for the Health Service and even less for the party. Some people will feel better because they have crusaded until the bitter end. But many more, especially those outside the conference, will feel let down that the Party is showing divisions and not buckling down to delivering what our Government has provided.
The Party has had a debate on Health. It extracted many concessions from the Tory wing of the Government. Let’s move on. Let’s work out the practicalities of delivering the localist health service community by community and town by town. Let’s not end our excellent work on the Health Service by making us look small, shallow and inward looking.