Non-political friends of mine don't get it. Surely, what coluld be more tedious than watching people talk at a podium in detail about constitutional ammendments?! They couldn't be further from the truth!
It's now 9am on Friday morning and I'm all ready for a long road trip by bus to Liverpool and the autumn 5 day federal conference. I'll be travelling by bus from Cardigan to Aberystwyth, then to Dolgellau, then to Wrexham, then to Chester and then, finally, to Liverpool.
It's going to be a long day of travelling but it'll be worth it.
I've been going to Liberal Democrat conference now since I was 19 years old when I went to the 2002 spring conference in Manchester. But the autumn conference is a different kettle of fish entirely. The spring conference is a weekend affair and whilst I've been to many of them since 2002, I have missed the odd one along the way. The autumn conference though, very much a part of the 'political conference season', is a 5 day event and therefore a much bigger beast than it's younger spring brother. My first autumn conference was in Brighton in 2003 and I've never missed one since.
I can't remember looking forward to a conference as much as this one. There's many reasons for that...
Firstly, there's the location. I've only made a fleeting day-trip visit to Liverpool back in 2005 so this is a city that I want to explore! I want to go to 'The Cavern' and eat some 'scouse'! The party held a spring conference in Liverpool back in 2008 (I think) but it was one of those that I missed so I'm looking forward to seeing the new BT Echo Arena on the Albert Docks which is acting as the concference venue, in all of its newly finished glory.
It's going to need to be ready for us because, I gather, there will be 8000 delegates descending on conference this year. This is an unheard of number in the time that I've been an active member of the party. Around 7,000 of these are paid up members and there'll be a further 1,000 members of the media. Long gone are the days when 'The Sun' deliberately ignored our conference so to not give us the oxygen of publicity and credibility!!
I've also got the bonus of having booked my accommodation directly opposite from the conference centre and conference hotel (Jury Inn) at the Hampton by Hilton. One of the usual annoyances of conference is having to walk back and forward between hotel and conference venue - but not this year!
I'm also looking forward to travelling on the 'Ferry 'cross the Mersey' because I'm sentimental like that!
Meeting Old Friends and Making New Ones
I think this will be my 14th UK-wide Federal Liberal Democrat conference. Over the years, having worked for the party as the Constituency Organiser for Ceredigion and having attended training events and by-elections and of course these conferences, I've made many good friends in the party. For every additional conference I attend, there's more 'old faces' for me to greet and new opportunities for me to meet new ones. It's like a big, happy family reunion and I love it.
In most cases, like those distant living relatives who you only see at family weddings or funerals, these will be friends who I only meet at conference time. This means I may only see them once or twice a year depending on if they and I go to one or both of the yearly conferences. But with the particular advent of Facebook, communications between us all are much more regular so when we do finally meet again at conference time, we usually have a good idea of what each other has been up too over the preceding 6-12 months.
As a party, the Liberal Democrats pride ourselves on being a democratic party. On a 'one member, one vote' basis, we debate party policy on the floor of conference and decide what our policies will be. This year is going to be particularly interesting as we are now, for the first time in 65 years at a national level, in Government. There's going to be some friction this year I'm sure but I'm looking forward to seeing more of this discussion, debating and disagreement than normal. There are some excellent policy debates this year and I'm ready to use my voting card!
Training & Fringes
For most of my time as a conference go-er, I've spent hours of my time in training events. This year however, now that I'm not working directly for the party, I'm looking forward to taking in more of the policy debates above and allow the younger members to get the teeth into the excellent training that is avbailable. Having said that, I have circled 2 training events that I plan to attend and they should be very useful.
The fringes are always one of my highlights. Always an opportunity to listen to some good speakers (and get some free food) on a topic of particular interest. I always attend the Liberal Democrat History Fringe meetings and pick others depending on the topic in question. I must admit this year to looking forward to going to the 'Motor Sports Association' Fringe. Yes, I'm a fan, but it's the draw of having former Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill there which has won me over specifically!
Proper Planning Prevents P*** Poor Perfomance!
Planning ahead for the week is always a good plan. This time I really have excelled myself. I've actually gone through the Agenda and Directory and pencilled in a whole week's worth of activities 2 weeks in advance! So I'm feeling particularly prepared - for once!
A Sad Start
But I leave for Liverpool with a great sense of sadness after the news last night that Richard Livsey has passed away. http://johnmarkcole.blogspot.com/2010/09
But we must carry on and continue the good work that Richard dedicated his life too - serving our communities. We'll do that by being good liberals and for the next 5 days we'll have the great comfort of being able to be in each other's company.
Richard Livsey, 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.