I don't say this lightly or flippantly for the sake of it but because I know it to be true - after all, this was my 19th Welsh Liberal Democrat conference out of a possible 20 since my first one back in Llandudno in the spring of 2002. This, on top of my 14 Federal conferences out of a possible 19 since my first one back in Manchester 2002 means I've been to a total of 33 Liberal Democrat conference in all!
So I could be considered to be a bit of an 'old hack' when it comes to it. But it does give me an insight for one so (reasonably) young at the age of 28 to be able to take a side-ways on perspective of the weekend as I have a decent idea about what I'm talking about!
Biggest Welsh Lib Dem Conference Ever?
As far as the figures go, it was the biggest conference we've ever held. For the second time in 3 years, the Barcelo Angel Hotel in Cardiff hosted us which meant that, as is becoming the norm of late, we were able once more to host the entirety of the conference weekend festivities under one roof which makes it easier for us delegates to get about and see everything that is on offer.
The number of pre-registered delegates were the largest recorded (from what I gather) and for the first time in my memory, the conference dinner was sold out before the weekend had arrived. That meant no tickets available on the day for anyone who was going to chance it.
In my 9 years of conferencing, it really did show itself to be the biggest and best yet.
Security for the Deputy Prime Minister!
We even had on the Friday evening, the almost incredulous sight of security machines in the conference hotel for us to all check through! Why? Because Nick Clegg the federal party leader and now Deputy Prime Minister was to appear at our pre-conference rally.
It certainly feels like a long way forward since those cold and lesser attended conferences in Llandrindod Wells' Coleg Powys!
We've grown as a party and the level of debate has improved as we continue to decide on our party policy as delegates on a 'one member, one vote' basis. We saw that during the course of the weekend as the party agreed policies on education, health, rural affair and transport to name but a few.
We had more training events (something that we never held even up to only a few years ago) to help campaigners for the weeks ahead and there were some fantastic fringe events held by external organisations who were there in good number - again, a much heartier number than I recall in all my years of conferencing.
|Chairing conference with my aide, Rhys Jones|
I then followed that by immediately leading conference in the financial appeal for the first time. It was very much the 'warm-up act' for Kirsty Williams' speech in which I got the crowd laughing and smiling with my inimitable brand of humour whilst doing my best to get as much money out of them as possible for our campaign war chest. It went well and Kirsty then gave a great speech in which she outlined a positive Welsh Liberal Democrat alternative to the failing Labour-Plaid Welsh Assembly Government.
I was straight back onto the nation's TV screens after Kirsty's speech when I did a live sofa-based interview with Dewi Llwyd for S4Cs conference coverage. I did so alongside Gwynoro Jones, a former Labour and SDP MP and former Liberal Democrat member who rejoined the party last May because Nick Clegg 'had the courage to go into Government with the Conservatives to clear up the mess Labour had left behind'.
I've heard of the name before of course and indeed I recall him standing as an Independent candidate on the Mid & West Wales regional list in the Welsh Assembly election in 2007, but I've never met him before and I hadn't realised that he'd re-joined the party (even sporting a Lib Dem bird of freedim tie!). It soon became apparent that his re-joining the party had also evaded the knowledgable Dewi Llwyd's attention and he reacted with some incredulity in the interview by asking Gwynoro how a former Labour MP could re-join the Liberal Democrats for having the guts to go into coalition with the Conservatives! This all meant that my part in the interview was more of a 'bit-part' character than normal but that didn't worry me - it was one of the most amusing interviews I can ever recall participating in!
It can be watched here on S4Cs iPlayer coverage from 1hr 40min.
In the late afternoon, after I'd heard Mark Williams MP propose a 'call to arms' to members to now lead the way in securing a second referendum 'Yes' vote on AV on May 5th after our fantastic success of getting a 'Yes to Wales' referendum victory last Thursday, I took some time out by catching up with colleagues at the conference bar. At this time, some of our younger members from Ceredigion gave an interview to BBC Wales and it can be found here at 1 hr and 50 minutes.
Well done to Ollie Duckley, Greg Foster and Hannah Thompson on giving a great performance!
A Conference Dinner Success - with help from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales!
After Vince Cable gave another excellent and honest address to conference (the man really is one of the few people I know who makes economics sound interesting), I settled down in my fantastically close-by B&B for a breather before getting back to the Angel by 6.30pm.
One of the best bits about conference for me is the catching-up with old friends from around the country - the more informal kind of 'networking'. Well I had the chance to do that with the likes of Anders Hanson who was down from Sheffield for the weekend (having previously lived in Aberystwyth). It was during the pre-dinner drinks reception with Anders and our local MP Mark Williams, that a BBC National Orchestra of Wales string quartet started playing right alongside us for our pleasure. I can safely say that it was one of the most surreal conference moments of my life! Never can I recall a Liberal Democrat conference entertaining such a treat! But then, what's wrong with adding a bit of class to the proceedings?! I wonder what Peter Black AM would've made of it had he not have taken a rare weekend off from conferencing himself!
The dinner as already reported, was full and former MP Evan Harris gave another great speech to us as he did last Spring (he was that popular we invited him back!). I was even lucky enough to draw the first raffle prize after the dinner which meant I got first pickings at the prizes and I made the most of my good fortune!
Sunday was as ever a quieter affair after the manic-ness that is the Saturday at conference. With the media having pretty much all packed their cases and left, it meant that the final few hours could be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace as is usually the case. This can usually be seen through the more dressed-down vibe seen around conference and this year was no expception.
I had been put down to lead on a training module alongside good friend Cllr Nick Tregonning from Swansea but whether it was because they all knew it all already or because they had been out too late at the bar the night before, no-one turned up! But not to worry, Nick and I proceeded to chat the hour away by putting the world to rights!
Conference guided itself to a close in the afternoon. Our Ceredigion Assembly candidate Liz Evans proposed and summated on the transport motion before Welsh Party President Christine Humphreys closed the conference with her traditional address.
Onward to the door-steps...
So, it's been another excellent conference and it is fair to say that, whatever the media may say about our electoral hopes and apirations, our conferences are continuing to go from strength to strength.
So it's back to our homesteads and back to campaigning on the door-steps. It's always great to spend a few days in the company of politically like-minded friends and colleagues but it's good to come home too and to put the policies and ideals that we espouse, into action.
As our conference weekend slogan said, Wales Can Do Better. We now need to spread that gospel on as many doorsteps as possible.