Sunday, 14 August 2011

What's that coming over the hill? Is it a Conference? A Lib Dem Conference?

Oh yes it is.

I can't pretend that I wasn't ever so slightly excited when I saw the big brown package waiting for me in the post on Friday morning. I've been waiting for it for a few days now and what it signifies is that we are now on the cusp of the autumn party conference season.

I explained quite comprehensively here last September, why I enjoy attending Liberal Democrat conferences so much.

It really does feel like a family environment to me. Politics is an intense environment and it is comforting at times to be in the likeminded company of those who believe in the same values as yourself. I commented here about that growing Lib Dem family of mine after I attended Andrew Reeves' memorial service in London last month.

33 Lib Dem Conferences...and counting...
By my reckoning, this will be my 34th Liberal Democrat conference in a shade under 10 years since my first conference in Manchester in the Spring of 2002.

I have attended 19 Welsh conferences in that time (including the special conference in 2007 to discuss the formation of a possible Rainbow Assembly Coalition with Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives). Indeed, since my first Welsh Liberal Democrat conference in Llandudno in the Spring of 2002, I have been an ever present apart from the autumn conference in Llandrindod Wells in 2004. In addition, I have attended 14 Federal conferences including every major autumn conference since my first in Brighton in 2003.

Birmingham 2011
So my first venture to a conference in Birmingham will by 15th at a UK-wide level. The pre-conference documentation arrives in two seperate batches - firstly the agenda and policy papers in early August and then at the end of the month, the Conference Directory and Training Guide.

The good news begins merely in the fact that the first pack arrived in the first place. The added security arrangements this year have caused great controversy amongst the rank-and-file and the new hoops that had to be lept through to register was quite off-putting. So the fact that pack 'A' has arrived means that my mamouth attempt to register on-line was not in vain!

I have also already booked into central and more than reasonably priced accommodation for the week so I'm all set for the trip.

I will have to wait for pack 'B' to arrive to plan my whole week around fringe events, training events and policy debates but the first glimpse at the agenda brings a number of very interesting topics to the fore.

The Agenda - Policy Debates & Speeches
The fact that we're now in Government means that our debates mean so much more than they did when we were in opposition. The result of the NHS debate in the Sheffield spring conference led to a change on Government tack on changes to the health service - a clear sign that having the Liberal Democrats in government is helping to moderate the worst excesses of the Conservative Party.

A significant debate on late Sunday afternoon titled 'Protecting Individuals and Communities from Drug Harms' will see the party debate a call for a government-backed inquiry into the decriminalisation of drugs as reported here on the BBC website and as Steph Ashley excellently comments on here in what is a welcome return to blogging after a 9 month hiatus.

Another debate which I expect to find overwhelming support amongst delegates will be the one on Tuesday morning titled 'Science Not Stigma: Ending the Blood Ban' which will focus the fire on the Blood Service for refusing to take blood donations from homosexual men who practise safe sex when hetrosexual men and women who have had unprotected sex can give blood after just one year. With blood stocks running low, this is a scandal.

I'm also looking forward to the 'Community Politics' debate later that same day which will reaffirm the party's commitment to a form of bottom-up politics that has stood it in good stead for some 40 years. This is more important now than ever before since we've become entwined with difficult decision making in Westminster. The Ceredigion Liberal Democrat local party were one of the many who jointly put it forward alongside Party President Tim Farron. I will also take great interest in the debates on 'phone hacking and the Arab Awakening.

Finally, to go back to my earlier barb about the additional security measures introduced by the police for this now Government influencing conference, I will take great interest in the Sunday morning debate on these changes and the attempt by the grass-roots to rest its conference back from the contol of the apparatchiks. I rather wish them well in their attempt and will have my voting card on the day to make my individual mark in this and all of the other debates which I have mentioned above and more.

In addition, there will be the keynote speech by Nick Clegg to close conference but also a Q&A session with him in which party members can ask what they like without any pre-warning. There'll be speeches by Vince Cable and Chris Huhne which I will also want to hear as well as one by Steve Webb MP the Minister for Pensions (a particularly important issue for me representing as I am an area with a high proporition of elderly residents). I'll be looking forward also to Kirsty Williams' speech as our Welsh leader on the final day following what will also be a very interesting Q&A session on international affairs with amongst others, Paddy Ashdown.

So there's much going on but the above is a mere drop in the ocean of what will be occurring during the course of those 5 days in Birmingham.

I can't wait for pack 'B' to arrive in the coming weeks for me to complete my plans. But come what may, I have a particular plan for the Saturday afternoon - I'm off to Villa Park to watch my boys take on Newcastle! Well, kill two birds with one stone and all that!

1 comment:

  1. Hope you have a good time in Birmingham. Unfortunately I will be missing this one, however I'll make sure I'm at Wrexham.