I was trying to work out yesterday how many main Spring and Autumn Federal Lib Dem Conferences I have been to. I gave up because it’s a hell of a lot! In 52 years, I have been to most of them although missing a few when I worked abroad. Even then I helped out at the first national convention of the DMP, the Turkish Liberal Party, so I suppose I can count that!
There have been highs and lows. One of the best highs until recently was the famous conference where David Steel told is to, “Go back to your Constituencies and prepare to Govern”. The undoubted low was the 2015 conference when all the commercial stands just cancelled. The media teams weren’t there and the exhibition area looked as if it was covered in metaphorical tumbleweed!
But I don’t think that any of them those days I have spent in seaside towns could match yesterday at conference. The whole conference centre was fizzing with energy. If you could have connected us to the National Grid we would have supplied all the power needs of Bournemouth!
The Members are here in huge numbers. More than 5,000 have registered for all or part of the Conference. The press are back with the media vans parked outside and 900 media passes issued. The diplomats are back as they realise the leading role that Jo Swinson will take in the next Parliament.
Some of the motions we looked at are extremely radical compared to the pallid and old-fashioned policies of Labour and the Tories. Both of those Parties are looking back and fighting the political battles of the 1970’s whilst we are looking forward to creating a liberal society for the next 30 years.
What a united Party we are. 120,000+ (more are joining every day) people working behind our Leader to bring about a new society. No splits, no factions, no rancour. Some honest disagreements, yes of course. Without disagreement policy and ideas do not develop. But all disagreements are being conducted in a positive and courteous way.
And look at the calibre of the people joining us! Tonight, the Liverpool crew will be having a drink with one of our new recruits, Luciana Berger MP. She is looking forward to her first Lib Dem Conference when she arrives today. This theme was picked up by Chukka Umunna at a meeting I was at yesterday when he said that it was the first time for years when he and his team had not dreaded going to their Party Conference and left as soon as they possibly could!
The people who joined us from other Parties either as MPs or as ‘ordinary members’ are the pick of the crop. Dedicated activists in their Party who just could not stomach their Party any longer as they lurched to left or right. It is no coincidence that both our candidates in the 2 Liverpool Council by-elections are people who until recently were Labour Party members.
The quality of those leaving as recognised by Alistair Burt MP when he commented in a Tweet after Sam Gyimah joined said his Party (the Tories) need people like Sam. Too late Alistair, the Rubicon has been crossed!
Sam Gyimah told our Rally last night that centrists were being “cast out of both main parties”. The East Surrey MP called on them to unite and fight back against the drift to the extremes.
“I listen to ministers undermining the courts,” he said. “Ministers questioning experts because their views are inconvenient for what the government is saying about no deal. You have a government that says law enforcement is the centrepiece of its platform, and yet says in another breath that it will pick and choose what laws it chooses to respect”.
Absolutely correct but politics is not and should not be just about Brexit. Brexit is defining us now because of the effects it will have on the quality of our lives for decades ahead. There will not be a small blip on the road if we leave the EU. Our economy, which has already lost 400,000 jobs, will decline. This will affect our ability to fund new developments for health, social care, education, transport, the environment, indeed everything that the people of the UK think need improving.
We say, “Bring on the next General Election” because we know that our Party will leap forward in it. Almost every poll predicts a Parliament where there is no overall control which is why every vote and every MP gained will increase Jo Swinson’s ability to force change in a system which is basically corrupt. Given the unpredictable nature of the First Past the Post system where there are four Parties in contention it is not impossible that the shots will really be called by Jo as the Prime Minister.
The next few weeks are crucial ones for our Country. The Lib Dems approach them larger than ever before, united, self-confident and gaining the support of centrists from both left and right. The bright sunny uplands are before us and the Lib Dems will leave Bournemouth full of vim and vigour and ready to take advantage of any opportunities which come our way to increase our presence and make our Country the great one that it used to be.