Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Conference Blog: Day 4 (Monday)

We've been in government now for just over 4 months. In a way, we've got used to this very quickly. As a party and as members we've had to get ourselves into this new mindset and we have done so. So much so in fact, that, and particularly to newer members who know little else, we almost take the fact that we're in this position with a pinch of salt and just get on with it. But, taking a step back, yesterday was actually an incredibly historic day for our party. Monday 21st September 2010 was the day that Nick Clegg MP, Liberal Democrat leader, first addressed his conference as the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdon of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Really? After all these years of opposition, of mergers, of false dawns and dashed hopes, we're actually there. In goverment. In control. It really is an amazing thing.

Morning Media Mayhem!
I got up early at 6.40am to get to the media centre in the Echo Arena to hive a few interviews on Welsh Radio. On arriving I realised that I'd left my security badge back in the hotel room but thought that they'd probably be relaxed enough about it and just let me in. Not now that we're in government! All change! I had to dash back to the hotel, then dash back knowing full well that I may now miss the live slot. As it happens, when I came dashing into the media centre, Oliver Hides the Radio Wales presenter was introducing the package on the Lib Dem conference and Jenny Randerson AM who was being interviewd with me, frantically pointed in my direction behing Oliver's back to let him know that I was in the building! He was barely 30 odd seconds away from introudcing us when I took my seat! Never a dull moment! The interview went well and at 7.45am I repeated it with another in Welsh for Radio Cymru alongside Myrddin Edwards.

Academies Bill & the West Lothian Question
After a break back in the hotel, I made my way back to the conference centre and sat in on an excellent debate in the main hall about the Academies Bill. The party are against the policy and there's much discontent that the coalition have moved ahead on this issue even though it wasn't in the coalition agreement. So it was an unsurprisingly lively affair and I was rather pleased that the 'rebels' won and voted down what was seen by many as a 'wrecking amendment' put forward by the leadership. The motion was passed comfortably to the approval of many there. It certainly proves that conference can be as awkward as ever!
I actually decided not to use my vote at the end of the debate as the Academies Bill is only applicable to England and not Wales due to devolution. So, in the light of the 'West Lothian Question', I felt it right that I don't interfere as a Welsh member in a matter that only involves England. After all, I wouldn't want the English telling me what to do!

Kirsty Williams

We then had a barnstorming speech from Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams and we were all there as 'Welshies' to support her. It was very well received by conference and afterwards I was told by our media man Richard Thomas that her reference to Richard Livsey in her speech as a 'gently giant' came directly from my blog post that gave him that name. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to have played a small part then, in what was an excellent performance by our Kirsty.

Lib Dem MP Bingo!

A gang of us decided on lunch at the Albert Docks and whilst we waited for our food, we decided to test oursevles on how many of the 57 Lib Dem MPs we could name without the aid of google or wikipedia. We actually did very well and named about 52/53 of them. I then decided to use this information and play 'Lib Dem MP Bingo' to see how many of thoe 57 I could spot in conference! I've spotted a good few of them in previous days of course but for the remainder of conference, I'm making a particular effort of keeping an eye out for those I have yet to see. I suddenly took great delight during the afternoon when I spotted such MPs as David Heath, Malcolm Bruce, Mark Hunter and John Leetch simply because it meant I could cross them off my list! I'm currently on 35 and would hope to extend that into the 40's before the end of play on Wednesday!

The Main Event - Nick Clegg's Speech
I've been to plenty of conferences in the past to know that you need to get your seat in early for the leaders speech.We arrived in good time yesterday but already the auditorium was filling up. It wasn't long, when, to my amazement, the whole room was full. In 15 UK-wide conferences, I have never seen delegates being turned away from the auditorium because there's no room left! Instead, they used an 'over-flow' room with a live link for other delegates to watch Nick's speech. I gather that even that was over half full!

So, indeed, here we were listening to the Deputy Prime Minister address us as our leader. We really have come a long way as liberals over the years.
His speech was surprisingly short at a little over 35 minutes (Charles Kennedy's speeches used to last for 50 minutes to an hour). But I thought it was a very well crafted affair and went down well with delegates in the hall. One of the biggest rounds of applause came when he reminded conference that the new coaltion goverment is scrapping ID cards - damned right! He also got a good yelp of approval when he maintained that the Iraq war was illegal. So it was a good speech and there's no doubt in my mind at least that it was well received by the members.

After changing into my evening attire back in the hotel, the rest of the day went by in a relaxed manner with the only desire being one of catching up with old friends around the conference bar (and tracking more faces to cross off on my Lib Dem MP Bingo of course!). After a very nice reception given by Park Printers, we went to the annual official Welsh Lib Dem Night at the Cornmarket in the city centre where I gave another clip (but this time pre-recorded) for Radio Cymru. I bumped into one of our Ceredigion supporters Kathy Bracy who was with friends in the city for a PCS Union gathering. It was good to catch up with them during the evening.

The Randomness of Lib Dem Conferences (No.1)
I do enjoy the quirky occurrences that often happen in Lib Dem conferences and the people you meet who have random associations with others! Well, back at the conference bar in the Jury Inn last night was no exception. I found myself talking for some time to a pleasant enough chap from Portsmouth. It turns out that his uncle was Ray Crawford who was a member of the Ipswich team that won the league title under Alf Ramsey in 1962, won 2 English Caps and scored 2 of the goals in the giant-killing FA Cup shock of 1971, when, now playing for Colchester, they beat Don Revie's Leeds United 3-2! I must admit, it tickled me!

I also had a real in depth conversation with a really nice guy about faith and human motivation. He's a Hindu and he had what I thought was an excellent outlook on life, despite having had some tough life experiences to deal with including losing his mother when he was just 18.

It was also great to catch up with Rhiannon Wadeson again in the conference bar and to remind ourselves of our fantastic birthday trip in Latvia back in 2008!

It's the mixture of the surreal and the profound which we find at conference like this that just makes it so unmissable!

The Randomness of Lib Dem Conferences (No.2)
I had the interesting experience also, after the Nick Clegg speech, of bumping into the Times journalists Daniel Finkelstein and Matthew Parris in the hotel lift and then at the conference bar in the evening, I bumped into Tory MP Nigel Evans in the toilets. These really are bizzare times in which we live!


Revenge on McDonalds
The bar finished relatively early I felt and before we knew it we were the last there (quite a fete in itself!). So an eclectic group of 5 of us decided to walk down to the nearby McDonalds for a 'drive-thru' early breakfast. With it being just a few hundred yards away for where I'm staying, this seemed ideal. So we walked into the drive-thru to make our order. There we were confronted by a rather embarassed young man who told us that he couldn't serve us. The reason? We weren't in a motorised vehicle! Apparently, on health and safety ground he couldn't serve us as the drive-thru was for those in 4 wheels only and not on two feet! We tried to make him realise that at 5.30am, there was no real danger of us being run over by an errant car whilst being served by him - but he stood his ground! He did seem pretty embarassed at the fact that he wasn't able to take our money for an order because of this technicality but not to worry, we had a cunning plan!

Nick Love decided to go to the main road and hail down a taxi. On doing so, we all went around the corner from the drive-thru jumped into the aforementioned taxi, drove back through the drive-thru, and ordered our meals from a dumbfounded young man! For the sake of paying the taxi driver the cost of driving through the drive-thru, it was worth it for the 5 of us just to get the reaction from the McDonalds staff!

Suffice to say the actual food itself was pretty hopeless, so with our hotel breakfast bar nearly open, Nick and I decided to wait until 6am to get a proper breakfast, before going to bed!

A historic day came to an end then with a characteristic liberal rebellion against authority!

No comments:

Post a Comment