Friday, 2 March 2012

A 2012 Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference Preview

I was asked to submit this article by the good people at fortress Liberal Democrat Voice earlier this week and though they had to cut it down ever so slighly due to its length, I thought I would re-publish it here in full.

"This weekend, the Welsh Liberal Democrat family will be gathering in Cardiff for our spring conference.

"For better or for worse, this has become a staple part of my diary and this year sees me celebrate my 10th anniversary of attending Liberal Democrat and Welsh Liberal Democrat conferences. Indeed, by my reckoning, this will be my 37th such conference out of a possible 43 in that time!

So, what’s the message?
"Well, unsurprisingly, we’re concentrating on the forthcoming Council elections: our record as Welsh Liberal Democrats in local government across Wales and our vision for the future.

"It will all begin with the pre-conference rally on the Friday evening where Peter Black AM and Eluned Parrott AM will speak alongside current Councillors from across Wales and new candidates standing for the first time.

"You’ll be hearing a lot about how Welsh Liberal Democrat-led Councils have the lowest council tax increases of all Welsh Councils. This proves that we believe in value for money and understand the pressures on family finances. In these challenging times, Welsh Liberal Democrats are helping those that need help the most.

"There will also be much talk about our support in investing in our children’s futures. Even from the opposition benches in the Welsh Assembly, Welsh Liberal Democrats secured the implementation of one of our headline manifesto policies of investing £450 to each pupil on free school meals. Over the next 12 months, that will equate to £32m benefiting children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will have a positive impact on schools in every community of Wales – brilliant news for Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillors, candidates and campaigners to take onto the doorstep.

"Finally, there will be the reminder that Welsh Liberal Democrats deliver better services for local people - whether it’s the new leisure centre in Swansea, investing in new school buildings in Ceredigion or keeping the rates low in Cardiff. Most of all, Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillors remain the voice of the community at County Hall and are fighting to protect front-line services by rooting out waste and unnecessary spending instead.

So, what’s on the Agenda this year?
"These messages will thread through the many debates that will be held on the conference floor this coming Saturday and Sunday. Motions that will be discussed will seek to democratise the National Parks, boost local economies, review business rates, call for a new law for park homes and debate the compulsory micro-chipping of dogs to name but a few. There will of course also be a reminder that we are at the core, a devolutionary party that has faith in the people and wishes to transfer down more responsibility to local authorities which are closer to our communities.

"There will also be consultation sessions on the planning process and a Q&A session with the Federation of Small Businesses to stimulate wider debate. In addition, Fringe events held by the likes of Community Housing Cymru, RNIB Cymru, the WLGA, the Electoral Commission, RCN Wales, Stonewall Cymru, Age Cymru and Oxfam Cymru as well as exhibition stands from MS Society Cymru, NASUWT Cymru, Crossroads Care and Action on Hearing Loss will give the 3rd sector the opportunity to meet and positively influence party members. Training events will also give new and the not so new members like me an opportunity to hone and refresh our campaigning skills.

"We shall also of course be hearing from our popular leader Kirsty Williams AM as well as our Deputy Leader Roger Williams MP and Cardiff City Council Leader Rodney Berman. There will also be a speech by a certain Nick Clegg MP! We’re delighted that Nick as our party leader and of course the Deputy Prime Minister has given his time to be with us on the Saturday afternoon to inspire our current and new members for the campaigns ahead.

Don’t forget the socialising!
"But all work and no play of course made Jack a dull boy and as ever, much of the important business will be at the bar when the networking after all the official business is completed will begin in earnest!

"Our conference dinner on the Saturday evening is THE set-piece event of the weekend and this year our guest speaker will be Bath’s Don Foster MP. That will be preceded this year by the annual local party event on the Friday night when the Cardiff Lib Dems shall entertain us all at the Lord Mayor’s official residence – The Mansion House!

"Prior to that rather unusual setting for an evening, I will be speaking from the platform in the pre-conference rally which I mentioned at the beginning of this piece alongside Peter, Eluned and colleagues from across Wales. On what happens to be my 10th anniversary of my attending that first conference in Llandudno in 2002, it is the first time I have been asked to speak in the rally and I will do so by speaking of my experience as a local Councillor these past 8 years. I will be immensely proud to do so. There will be little rest as I shall then be chairing conference on the Saturday morning in front of the live S4C television cameras in my native Welsh tongue!

"So it is set to be a busy and exciting weekend, as ever! For me personally, the highlight is simply being in the company of now long-standing friends with the expectation of making new ones during the course of the weekend. It is my extended family – my liberal family. I know that a lot of my Welsh colleagues feel the same way. It is an opportunity to renew that enthusiasm to campaign for our local communities as only liberals truly understand and can do. We believe in localism, we trust in the people. This coming weekend will further fire us up to go and take these messages onto the doorstep in the weeks ahead".

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