As we approach the mid-point of the Liberal Democrat Party conference in Bournemouth, I thought I’d post an update on my time so far.
I first joined the Lib Dems in May this year, having spent nine years as a member and supporter of the Labour Party. With over 5,000 attendees, this conference is certainly the largest in the party’s thirty-one year history.
On Saturday morning, party members discussed business tax reform in the main conference hall in the BIC. The hall was packed, with many valuable contributions coming from ordinary party members and members of the House of Lords.
At 1pm, Will Hutton, the political economist and Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, gave a two hour talk at the Marriott Hotel on advancing the ‘Social Liberal Agenda’. Hutton’s central message was for the party to develop a strong and better defined political philosophy on which its core policies on house building, stopping Brexit, reforming our constitutional arrangements and decarbonising our capitalist model could evolve.
Storytelling is an important, if often undervalued, part of successful political campaigning. Yes, ‘Stop Brexit!’ and ‘Bollocks to Brexit!’ may help cut through the monotonous haze of Westminster politics, but in arguing against Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, the Liberal Democrats should not lose sight of its wider socio-economic vision, which (if taken care of) can form the backbone of a successful election campaign.
At the end of this year, Party President Baroness Sal Brinton will leave her post after four years. It was a real joy to meet her just before she went on stage to give her farewell speech.
Two things stand out to a newcomer like me, in comparison with the Labour Party conference experience. First, Lib Dem elected representatives and party figures are far more approachable and willing to talk to ordinary members and conference goers. Second, is how male the conference attendees are. Sadly, there are not enough younger members and women able to attend conference. However, it was promising to see various fringe events focus on that very issue.
This morning (Saturday), I sat through further debates in the main hall. The topic was mental health and social care, something on which the Liberal Democrats took an early lead in the House of Commons, due to the work of Sir Norman Lamb MP. My time in the conference hall concluded with a farewell speech by Sir Vince Cable MP, who I met later on outside the Bourne Lounge.
In the early afternoon, I heard Chuka Umunna speak at a fringe event hosted by think-tank Progressive Centre UK. He was well briefed and confident in front of the audience and was able to answer my question to him on what Liberal Democrat members and MPs can do to attract more defectors from the two largest political parties in Westminster. (See picture above).