Never before in a Liberal Democrat conference have I ever felt let down by former F1 World Champion Damon Hill - until today!
The enjoyment levels of the night before at conference can usually be tested by whether I've been able to make breakfast the following morning. Well, yesterday morning I failed and the same can be said for my room mate Ali Goldsworthy. So we both put up a forceful show of unity in having a much needed lie-in!
Damon Hill Let Me Down!
I decided that my first main event of the day would be one that I've been looking forward too ever since the conference directory landed on my doorstep a few weeks ago - the Motor Sports Association fringe! It was in the Hilton Hotel so, along with Nick Love from York Central Lib Dems, we made our way through blustery rain and past the uninspiring group of demonstrating Union activists towards an event that was advertised as having both Damon Hill and Tony Jardine present. As a big F1 fan, this was exciting stuff! So imagine my disappointment, when, having arrived early to beat the expected masses, we found that neither were present! Admittedly we had the very fine replacement of 2 time Le Mans 24 hour winner Allan McNish to listen too but no mention at all of the fact that two of those who were in the original line-up weren't there - no apology or anything whatsoever! Perhaps in an odd way it was a good thing. As it turned out, only about 25-30 of us were there in total. Had we known that those originally promoted as being there wouldn't turn up, the figures could've been even worse!
Nick Clegg Q&A
It was a quick dash over to the Echo Arena for the first time in the day at 2.30pm for the afternoon session of conference and the Welsh Liberal Democrat presentation. There were a few technical glitches but what stood out for me was the excellent performance made by our Welsh Assembly candidate for Montgomeryshire Wyn Williams. It was the first time I've heard him speak at a conference and in front of such a large crowd, I thought he did a smashing job.
We then had the informal but popular, Nick Clegg Q&A Session. The autitorium was full and there were some good questions asked of Nick by members (and some bad ones). Notably, there were good questions asked about pensions, Pakistan and the future direction of the party - all of which Nick answered well. He was in feisty but amusing form and was very well received by delegates. It was good to see Nick also field questions from the audience that hadn't been pre-selected by the conference committee. One of those asked off-the-cuff was by one of our Aberystwyth students Rory Roberson who got a question to Nick about FE funding. He asked the same question of Vince Cable the night before so he's had a good and productive weekend fair play!
Lunching with the English Defence League
Having not eaten all day, I decided to join the student gang who had already gone over to our adopted 'local', the Baltic Fleet for a late afternoon lunch. I'd watched a BBC4 documentary about food in the North recently and noticed that the word 'Scouse' comes from a local dish served in these here parts. It's basically a kind of meat stew/broth/cawl with red cabbage and I decided that I wanted to try some whilst I was in Liverpool. Well, here was my chance, and it must be said, it went down very nicely indeed. Less so were the group of 20-30 or so members of the Merseyside branch of the English Defence League who were eating/drinking/generally making some noise in the room next to us. The police had been tipped off and were keeping an eye on the pub as we arrived. I hope they didn't think that we were with them!
Awards from Nick Clegg
After a break back in the hotel, it was time for the annual Campaign Department's 'Oscars' awards ceremony. Every year the department gives awards out to local parties and campaign teams who have made a significant contribution during the year. Last year, I was delighted to receive an award on behalf of Ceredigion from Nick Clegg, and this year again, in front of our peers I was delighted to do so once more. Nick gave us a bottle of House of Commons champagne for having the best Poster/Stakeboard effort around the country (which I later found out at the bar annoyed our colleagues in Cornwall!). A group of around 15 of us huddled around Nick for a photo and it was great that the whole team that have made it here to conference could share in the event. It's very nice to be appreciated by your colleagues and this annual event is always a pleasant opportunity to celebrate the best practise of local parties the length and breath of the UK.
The Celtic Fringe (with Nick Clegg...again!)
Considering the fact that Nick Clegg will be going to the UN later this week and will be missing the end of conference, we really have been spolit rotten in having his company today! First there was the Q&A, then the much more intimate gathering of senior campaigners at the 'Oscars' ceremony and now, last thing at evening after a group of us 'Welshies' had had a Pizza Express evening meal, we had a joint Scotland/Wales social in the good company of the main man himself as well as Kirsty Williams AM and Tavish Scott MSP (kindly sponsored by the good people at ASDA). We've rarely had an opportunity to get together in such a way in conferences past in my memory so it was good to get the 'Celtic representatives' together in one room for an hour of bonhomie.
After an hour or so at the conference bar afterwards, I went back for an uncharacteristically early night at 1am to prepare for live radio interviews this morning. But as is ever the case, it was great to see some old and familiar faces during the evening. But there's still a few I haven't seen who I know are lurking around here somewhere so one of my mission's for these last few days will be to find them!