The privilege of attending conference in Glasgow

imageI’m very conscious that these six days in Glasgow are very much a luxury which I am very privileged to enjoy. For my family allowing me to come here for six days, for my dearly beloved (whose middle name is “reduced for a quickie”) getting us some great deals on my hotel and train, for being able to see my much respected work colleagues in Erskine, for being able to savour the luxury of the wealth of informed debate here and to enjoy the vibrant, brash, culturally rich city of Glasgow. These are all things for which I am inordinately grateful.

Yesterday, a highlight was seeing Jeremy Browne take Home office questions from members. Boy, did I rush in to get a ring side seat for that! Jeremy Browne is a true liberal and Liberal Democrat. He is a great MP and a vigorous and thoughtful minister in the Home office. But I think he needs to be kept on his toes by us members. He’s the Liberal Democrat in the government department which sent round the “go home” vans and detained David Miranda for nine hours, on his watch. He has a lot to answer for, and I am pleased to report that Jeremy rose to the occasion, displaying an impressive mastery of his brief. It helped for him to be book-ended by Tom McNally, for whom I have infinite respect.

On Saturday, nice and early, I put in a card for the debate on F17 Protecting Children from Online Pornography. Over the years I have put in scores of speakers’ cards. I know well that tense, gut-wrenching nervousness as you wait to see if you will hear those auspicious words “Will Paul Walter standby” only to not hear them and slowly realise that you’re not going to be called, that the speakers who were called had great fun and were very erudite (but not as brilliant as I would have been ;-)) and that you now are the proud possessor of half a pint of adrenaline whizzing around your blood system with nowhere to go!

When I put my card in, I didn’t expect to be called. But as the hours ticked by, up to the debate, I realised that, for once, due to 32 years grafting away at the coalface of the IT industry, I actually had a meaningful answer to the question on the card which asks “Why should you be called to speak in this debate? What experience or knowledge do you have which you can bring to it?”. So I thought I might be called, but I was very surprised to be called in pole position for the “antes” – the first speaker after the proposers of the motion and amendment.

I remember watching Floella Benjamin on Play School as a student. I remember her really cheery smile and wonderful braided hair as she invited us to guess which window they would go through today. Would it be the round window, or the square window, or the arched window? The keen mathematicians watching with me in the common room would try to see if there was a statistical pattern to which window she went through day after day.

When my daughter was a toddler I watched a lot of telly with her. I remember particularly watching Floella Benjamin pretending to be a train – which was great!

I am a huge fan of Floella Benjamin now she is Baroness Benjamin. We are lavishly fortunate to have such an energetic campaigner in our party and on our red benches!

When Baroness Benjamin got up to propose the motion, my trepidation at possibly speaking against the motion rapidly reached panic levels. Her speech was tremendously powerful and authoritative, with oodles of real life examples. How the heck could I possibly follow that? It was like having to speak against Mother Theresa!

Fortunately, the knowledge that I had a reasonable speech, prepared based on the experience of all those years of having a speech under my arm but not being called, prevented me from doing a Usain Bolt to the back door rather than walking up to the podium.

People were very kind afterwards, and the reference back decision was a huge relief and absolutely right. This subject is like three dimensional chess in its complexity. The people and resources at the disposal of the Federal Conference Committee will, I am sure, be instrumental in producing a sound motion for a future conference to debate.

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