It's been wet in Liverpool so far. In fact, I was taking to one of our students Richard Morgan-Ash last night and he said that in his recollections, he can't remember a wet autumn conference. Come to think of it, in the 7 odd years I've been conferencing, neither can I. Hopefully the weather will improve.
Yesterday was a good day though. A slow morning got going as we checked into conference and found our barings around the massive Echo Arena.
As we'd been warned, security here is much more intrusive than normal but we've just got to make do with it. The knack is to plan ahead and make sure you're in the arena comfortably before the debate you want to see starts - easier said than done! During one of my forays through security yesterday, I happened to find myself behind former Richmond Park MP and Lib Dem Presidential candidate Susan Kramer. On being frisked by the staff, Susan swept up her arms and gave me a good whack in the face! Possibly my come-uppance for backing Tim Farron MP in the contest!
After a decent (but not hugely spectacular) lunch in the (absolutely spectacular) Albert Docks, I made my way over to the conference hall for the official opening of conference at 2.30pm. Baroness Walmsley made the opening and we then had some rather dry but neccesary reports to conference by the conference and policy committees. There was a decent number in the hall at that time although I had expected more for the opening even if it is merely a ceremonial affair.
Tim Farron 4 President!
An excellent piece of planning for this conference is that the conference hotel, the Jury Inn, is literally about 200 yards from the entrance to the Echo Arena. So there's much to-ing and fro-ing between the two as delegates go back and forth to training events or fringe meetings.
I went in mid-way through to Tim Farron's 'Westmorland & Lonsdale' training event which was well attended. From behind me I heard a question being asked by a recognisable voice. I turned round and there was the face of a very kind gentleman who has helped us out in Ceredigion on a few occasions 5 or so years ago. I caught up with him afterwards to say hello but I'm damned if I can remember his name!
We then had a gathering of Tim Farron supporters in a quiet nook of the conference bar for a pep-talk by the man himself on the launch of his Presidential bid. Tim really is an excellent and inspiring speaker and the 25-30 of us there were well psyched for the nominations signing and sticker stickings over the days ahead.
Indeed, just like with Ros Scott's successful campaign 2 years ago when conference was plastered in delegates wearing her campaign sticker ('I'm 4 Ros' I think it was), this conference has already taken on a distinctly 'Tim to Win' feel.
The rally which was being led by the Electoral Reform Society was packed out and inspired us all to go out and campaign for a positive 'YES' vote in next year's AV Referendum. Art Malik was excellent and highly amusing as compare and we had some excellent speeches. Notably for me, it was good to see former MP Martin Bell there weighing in with his support. I bought his autobiography 'An Accidental MP' many years ago and have always been a fan. Jo Swinson was unsurprisingly excellent and very infectious with her enthusiasm and then, Tim Farron appeared once more as a (very very very) last minute replacement for Charles Kennedy. As ever, he almost stole the show (but then maybe I'm being biased here!).
Finally, Nick Clegg spoke very well in that laid back, relaxed conference style of his and brought the rally to a close. The fireworks that marked the end of the rally was quite surreal - we're clearly now a party of government!
Once a student, always a student as they say. So when we were given the nod by Cardiff's Rachael Hitchinson that Liberal Youth had a fringe event with free food and wine, we made a quick dash back to the Jury Inn to get in there quick. We were successful and indeed listened to an excellent fringe about HE Funding with Vince Cable, the main man on the panel. It finished with Q&As and an excellent question by a 14 year old school pupil - I'd never have had the guts to ask a Secretary of State a question in front of over 50 people when I was that age!
Lib Dem BOTY Awards
I've made a concerted attempt over recent weeks to get my blog 'up-and-active' and as a result, was keen to go, for the first time, to the Lib Dem 'Blog of the Year' Awards ceremony. I was interested to see the faces behind many of the names in the Lib Dem blogosphere and it was great to see such a diverse and eclectic bunch! It certainly made me feel as if 'I'm not alone' out here, blogging away! Congratulations to the winners of the 2010 BOTYs and particularly to Millennium Elephant for winning blog of the year! Hopefully the curse won't strike again and they'll all continue blogging into 2011!
If Friday night was a calm, quiet affair, last night was anything but! As expected, most conference delegates arrived during the day and their presence was felt in an over-flowing conference bar. It was great to bump into a number of faces from around the country I was hoping to see. The York contingent were out in force with Nick Love, Billi Williams and the English Mark Cole (aka Tom Holvey) and it was good to see the likes of Sam Potts, Marie Jenkins, Mike and Veronica German, Amy Kitcher, Kev O'Connor and Bob Griffin there too.
An absolutely incredible development transpired during the late evening at the bar. As an over-flow mechanism, there's a smaller additional bar and they serve what I can only presume is a local beer called 'Cains'. Unbelievably, you can get a pint of it for just £2.45. That's 2 pints for a £5! It's unheard of generally nowadays but in a conference bar?! It's even nice to drink! Incredible!
I left the bar around 2.30am and there were still plenty there in my wake, soaking up the pretty unique atmosphere that is a Liberal Democrats conference bar in the early hours!
Conference has very much, 'come alive' now and it should be an excellent next few days ahead.