The 2.4 million UK citizens snubbed by Nick Clegg's banging on about "Great Britain"

2008.11.22 - Union FlagPerhaps I am being overly pedantic.

But I am now starting to get livid about Nick Clegg banging on about “Great Britain, not Little England”.

The name of our country is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. By referring only to Great Britain, Nick is excluding and marginalising all the people in Northern Ireland, many of whom lost relatives and friends and/or were injured in the struggle to settle Northern Ireland’s future as part of the United Kingdom. He is also excluding people in the scores of islands which are contained within our country, other than Great Britain.

Going from the 2011 census, we are talking about 1,811,000 people in Northern Ireland, 99,739 people in the Scottish Islands and 141,050 people in the Isle of Wight. If you also include the other 13 islands of England and Wales, the total number of people in the UK who are not living on the island of Great Britain, is 2,381,816.

West Buckland School Exmoor run – a demon is slain

imageI am feeling relatively few ill effects from running the West Buckland School Exmoor Senior Boys run on Thursday. Past pupils and parents are invited to take part (via the excellent West Buckland Foundation and Old West Buckland Association). 40 did on Thursday. But only three were crazy enough to go the whole hog and walk out eight miles with the senior boys to the start before running back 10.6 miles. I was one of those crazy three. The boys walked out at a breathtaking pace, so, for me, the walk out alone was more gruelling than one of my 17 kms training runs on Greenham Common.

The weather was really good. The view from the start, near the top of the moors, was utterly stunning (thank you, God).

The past pupils start a few minutes before the boys. At the start, I turned and looked at the boys lined up in their house columns, waiting to run. That was me 39 years ago. Their whole lives are in front of them. An inspiring moment. I couldn’t help smiling broadly.

I ran every step of the way. So this was the first time I ran the Exmoor. (I used to walk big chunks of it.) It will certainly be the last time as well. I have done it now. Box ticked. If there is a tougher cross country run in the country then it must involve wading through pools containing live pirhana and running bare foot over red hot coals.

The first half is relatively OK. Mostly on track, mostly downhill. But the sadist who designed the run reserved the hellish bits for the second half. Mud. Mud. Mud. Inglorious mud. Hills. Hills. Hills. And more hills. One 33 percenter. Rutted muddy tracks almost impossible to run on. Marsh. Bog. Streams. The local Hunt in full regalia, complete with numerous followers (I kid you not). It’s got the lot. Then when you think you are on the home straight, there’s a blinking turnip field to negotiate – like running through a minefield.

I don’t believe in “bucket lists”. It doesn’t seem to fit with my faith. But, by running (albeit at some stages at a speed that would have looked more like a soft-shoe shuffle) the Exmoor every single step of the way I have well and truly slain a demon.

This will give me the enthusiasm to keep on running. Every run will now be a breeze compared with the Exmoor.

Thank you WB!

West Buckland School, Exmoor run. 1976. Our famous "Band on the run" pose as we leave WB on The Long March. I am trying to play the James Coburn role (tallest in the middle). If any photo sums up my joyous memories of West Buckland it is this one. Brilliant! I really did thoroughly enjoy the Sixth Form and it really helped form me as a social person.

West Buckland School, Exmoor run. 1976. Our famous “Band on the run” pose as we leave WB on The Long March. I am trying to play the James Coburn role in the middle. If any photo sums up my joyous memories of West Buckland it is this one. Brilliant! I really did thoroughly enjoy the Sixth Form and it really helped form me as a social person.

Nick Clegg's best ever speech

imageIn the cool light of day, I have studiously re-read Nick Clegg’s speech to the York spring conference (in full below). I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I think it is his best speech ever. The passage about why he loves the UK had me welling up as I read it, just as it did when I watched the speech. And he gives a superb summary of where we are headed in the next five years.

The speech is an act of real leadership. We could easily have gone into the May European elections talking about the schools, crime and hospitals, and not mentioning the E word. In other words, we could have fudged the European elections, just as we have fudged them many times before.

But no. Nick has laid down the gauntlet and come out fighting, with a crystal clear, passionately argued “IN” position. I hugely admire Nick for this. Goodness knows how it will play at the ballot box. But Nick has taken exactly the right course.

(In passing I mention the small niggling point that Nick described this country twice as an “island” in his speech and referred to “Great Britain”. For the record, the name of our country is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and it is a collection of whole/part islands, not an island. Imagine how someone in Northern Ireland would have felt listening to the speech. They may have lost friends or relatives in the troubles and then hear themselves being effectively excluded from being mentioned).

By pure coincidence, I now discover that my invitation to lead a discussion on the economic benefits of EU membership next Wednesday at my old school is on the same day as the first Nick v Nigel debate. A double honour.

My view is that both Nick and Nigel have nothing to lose in these debates. They will both fight to win across almost completely separate constituencies. I expect, therefore, very little rancour between the two men. On their terms I expect them both to do well. A win-win. Nick is brilliant at this sort of stuff. The passion, the facts and figures. It all flows freely in one great engaging package.

Since I became the Deputy Prime Minister I have had the privilege of spending a bit of time representing Britain’s interests in other parts of the world.

I have visited Latin America and Asia to boost exports. I have been to Africa, where we are building better education systems as well as helping fight corruption, poverty and disease. I have travelled to different parts of Europe and the United States to promote British trade.

And while each trip varies from the last, there is a thread which runs through them all: you get to see Britain through other people’s eyes.

Everywhere I have been – every nation around the planet – has its own story about Britain.

On a trade mission to South Korea I paid my respects at a war memorial at the bottom of a hill where, during the Korean War, British soldiers – heavily outnumbered – fought for three solid days to hold back North Korean and Chinese forces.

It is a battle that every single South Korean schoolchild learns about. Had we given up or been defeated, it could have cost their grandparents the war.

For Mexico, Britain is the first European country to have officially recognised their independence following their liberation from colonial rule. That means something to them.

In Colombia Britain is the nation that built their first railways.

Lynne Featherstone and I were in Ethiopia, for whom Britain is now the first member of the G8 to have met the decades-old promise by rich countries to spend 0.7% of our national wealth on aid for the developing world. Something we have long argued for and this Coalition has delivered.

So wherever you go one thing is clear: people don’t listen to our country out of some nostalgic deference to an old power. They listen because of who we are. Because of the things we’ve done. Because of the leadership we continue to show. And that makes me incredibly proud.

I love Britain.

I love it for all its contradictions.

I love that we are as modest as we are proud.

I love the way we can cherish our traditions yet innovate relentlessly, churning out one ingenious invention after the next. The telephone, the steam engine, the jet engine, the world wide web; the same nation that came up with stainless steel is now developing graphene – the strongest material the world has ever seen. Oscar winning visual effects; cutting-edge design; theatre, fashion, music, film – you name it, we do it, and we’re up there with the best.

I love that a country capable of extraordinary pomp and ceremony can still retain a spiky irreverence towards its establishment. A country where we line the streets waving our Union Jacks wildly to welcome the arrival of Prince George, and the next moment we’re chuckling at Private Eye’s front page: ‘Woman Has Baby’.

I love that we insist on queuing when we go abroad, even when the locals don’t.

I love that the BBC and NHS are known and respected across the planet.

I love that our cities are home to every race, religion, colour and language in existence.

I love Miriam telling me that the feeling of freedom you get in Britain simply doesn’t exist anywhere else.

I love that the shipping forecast is listened to by insomniacs of all ages, right across the country, miles from the sea.

I love how excited we get at the glimpse of any sun, insisting on staying out in our t-shirts and flip-flops – even when it’s obviously still cold.

I love living in a country synonymous with human rights and the rule of law.

I love that it was British lawyers who drafted the European Convention on Human Rights and a British Prime Minister who helped launch the Single Market. And I enjoy reminding my Coalition partners that it was a Prime Minister from their party at that.

I love that we do respond – the cliché is true – to every problem no matter how big or small with the same thing: a cup of tea.

I love that, wherever you go in the world, you’ll find football fans obsessed with the Premier League.

I love that we are a family of four different countries, each with their own characters, traditions and good-natured rivalries. And that’s why I want to see – we all want to see – Scotland stay in our family of nations later this year.

I look at what’s happening in places like Russia, where the government is effectively criminalising homosexuality, and I love that Britain is a place where you can be gay and proud – and now you can get married too.

Above all I love that, while we may be an island, we have always looked beyond our shores. Throughout our history, when we have seen trouble in the world we haven’t just looked the other way; we haven’t just crossed to the other side of the street; Britain doesn’t peer out at the rest of the world and shrug its shoulders. We are always at our best when we play our part.

This summer marks the centenary of the First World War. One hundred years ago hundreds of thousands of British troops headed into a conflict from which many of them would never return. When it ended my grandfather, not long out of school, climbed onto the roof of Westminster Abbey and watched the survivors come home – bloody, bruised and broken by the things they had seen. He told me that, in spite of everything, he was desperately upset that he hadn’t been called up to the front: because he passionately believed that to be a British soldier, defending our values of liberty and peace, was the most noble thing you could be.

Years later he married a woman who had herself come here to avoid conflict and revolution: my grandmother. She escaped Russia during the revolution, crossing Europe with her family and eventually settling in London. For her Britain offered a place of stability and safety. At a moment of great upheaval, this country welcomed her in and let her call it home.

There are few nations as open-minded and warm-hearted as ours. Smart, funny, compassionate Britain. Always changing, always evolving Britain. Humble enough to understand that we must work with others. Confident enough to lead.

For me it is these qualities that make this nation great – these great liberal qualities. Not some sepia-tinted memory of Empire. Not some stuffy parochialism dressed up as patriotism.

In the 21st Century, in a highly competitive, fluid and fast-moving world we hold our own because of our ability to embrace the future rather than cling to the past. It is our ability to look forward and outward and our capacity for reinvention – in other words our liberalism – that ensures this small island remains a giant on the world stage.

The question – one of the biggest questions of our time – is how we protect the liberal values of this nation.

Six years ago we suffered an unprecedented cardiac arrest in our banks.

This wasn’t just a recession. It was a shattering collapse of the basic assumptions by which successive governments had run our economy since the Big Bang.

This wasn’t just a downturn. We were a nation plunged into uncertainty as the thumping heart of our economy ground to a halt.

And you have to remember: even before this happened a quiet crisis of confidence was already creeping over developed economies like ours. Global power, money and influence have been shifting from West to East and from North to South for years. The previously fashionable view that the world would automatically slide towards greater freedom and democracy now feels presumptuous and naïve. Within our lifetimes America will no longer be the world’s biggest economy. It will be China: an authoritarian state.

Taken together, in societies across the Western world, these experiences have created an entirely understandable but dangerous urge to turn inwards. An urge to reject the new or unfamiliar and to shun the outside world.

If anyone doesn’t believe it, just glance across the Channel at our European neighbours, where a number of extremist parties are on the rise.

In Greece’s last parliamentary election the Golden Dawn Party secured 18 MPs. They ran on an anti-immigration platform. Their slogan? ‘So we can rid the land of this filth’.

Hungary’s Jobbik Party now has 43 MPs, one of whom has called for a register of Jews who he claims ‘pose a national security risk’.

In Bulgaria, Ataka makes up 10% of the National Assembly. One of their MPs has reviled Syrian refugees as ‘terrible, despicable primates’.

In the Netherlands Geert Wilder’s PVV party is polling at around 18%. They have called for the Koran to be banned, comparing it to Mein Kampf.

Front National. Around 21%. Their leader, Marine Le Pen, has compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France.

These are not far flung places. This is our backyard. The forces of chauvinism, protectionism and xenophobia have been emboldened. And there is no doubt about it: the fight is now on for the future direction of our continent.

We are lucky. Thankfully we do not have the same extremism here in the UK. But that’s not to say the fight isn’t on for the future of our country too.

An ungenerous, backwards looking politics has emerged in Britain. The politics of blame has found an acceptable face: it wears a big smile and looks like someone you could have a pint with down the pub. So I’m drawing a line in the sand. I am going to defend the tolerant and modern Britain we love, and I am going to start by showing people what’s at stake at the upcoming European elections: do you want Britain in Europe, or out?

That’s the real question in May. One party wants out. Another is flirting with exit. The other lot don’t have the courage of their convictions on this – they’re saying nothing at all.

The Liberal Democrats are now Britain’s only party of IN. The only party out there explaining the clear benefits of Britain’s place in Europe. The only party giving people the facts.

IN because Europe is our biggest export market and vital to British jobs. Because pulling up the drawbridge is the surest way to wreck our economic recovery.

IN because in the fight against climate change, and in a world where some of the biggest players are also the biggest polluters, Europe’s nations can only make a difference if we work together.

IN because cooperation between our police forces is essential for catching the criminals who cross our borders. Crime crosses borders, so must we.

IN because Britain stands tallest in the world when we stand tall in Brussels, Paris and Berlin.

This isn’t about some starry eyed affection for the EU – of course it needs reform. But you can’t change it with one foot out the door. You change it by taking your place at the table – which is where you protect Britain’s national interest and promote our values too.

How else would we, right now, be making our presence felt against Vladimir Putin’s Cold War aggression in the Ukraine?

The EU is a global economic superpower. By standing shoulder to shoulder with our European partners we have the clout to defend not just our own interests, but the interests of our continent as a whole.

So, for all these reasons, I’m IN.

Forget the lazy assumption that, in the court of public opinion, the eurosceptics will automatically win. There is nothing automatic about election results. A few months ago, when I asked people to take to Twitter to tell me why they’re IN, they did so in their thousands. It was our most successful online campaign ever.

There are plenty of people out there who don’t want anger. They don’t want bile. They want jobs. They want our country to have influence. They want opportunities. Ultimately they want hope.

And that, Liberal Democrats, is what it all comes down to. Hope. It’s the oldest dividing line in politics – hope versus fear – and it’s back.

We talk a lot about reducing the deficit, fiscal consolidation, bringing down public sector debt, increasing GDP, creating private sector jobs. But in the end what we’re really talking about is giving the British people the confidence to once again look to their futures with hope.

That’s how you lead a nation through difficult times. That’s how you hold a country together when its citizens are feeling the pressure. And that’s what the last four years in government have been about.

There is still a long way to go and many people are still feeling the squeeze. But after a period of grave uncertainty, the British people can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope that makes each and every one of you feel proud: there would be no recovery without the Liberal Democrats.

No recovery if we hadn’t decided to enter into coalition in order to provide the country with strong government.

No recovery if we hadn’t held our nerve and stuck to the plan.

No recovery if we had allowed the Coalition’s economic strategy to be solely about cuts. Sorting out the nation’s finances is essential but equally as important is investing in the foundations of lasting growth.

The unprecedented Treasury support that will transform Britain’s roads and rail.

The world’s first Green Investment Bank.

The billions of pounds spent on businesses across the country.

The million more young people who are now qualifying as apprentices.

Don’t let anyone airbrush out our role. Thanks to the heroic efforts and sacrifices of millions of people we have been able to pull this country back from the brink. Under extraordinary pressure we have achieved extraordinary things. And no matter what our critics say, when the history books are written they will say that, most extraordinary of all, the country was put back on the right track by a party which had never been in government before but which had the guts and the courage to do what it took.

And now a different challenge awaits.

We’ve been in emergency mode for the last four years, but that is slowly changing. If this parliament has been about a rescue, the next will be about reconstruction and renewal.

If we are truly ambitious for our country, Britain’s future cannot be like its past.

Successive governments relying on an overheated financial sector; presiding over a wildly imbalanced economy where the gap between rich and poor grew; where the North fell further and further behind the South.

Successive administrations jumping from one set of public service reforms to the next and Whitehall just seemed to carry on regardless as more and more power was sucked up to the centre.

I don’t want us ever to go back there. It cannot be right that the country goes through all of this pain only to end up where we started when it all went wrong.

In this coalition we have begun to turn the page, but the real test will come in the next parliament – when government will have to show whether or not we have really, genuinely, learnt from the mistakes of the past.

And I simply do not believe that our opponents have. I simply do not believe that they are up to this task.

Left to their own devices what are they offering the British people?

Profligacy. Economic incompetence. A bloated and cumbersome state. Politicians who think that all they need to do to prove themselves is posture against business. A leadership desperate but unable to break free from the grip of its Union paymasters. A party that cannot be relied upon to keep the economy safe; that wants us to put them back behind the wheel even though they still won’t admit how badly they got it wrong.

Or how about widening inequality. A remorseless shrinking of our public services. A party that claims we’re all in it together and yet refuses to ask the wealthy to pay even a penny more in tax towards the on-going fiscal effort. A party which will instead single out one group – the working age poor – for especially tough sacrifices. £12bn worth of especially tough sacrifices, from people who are trying to work their way out of poverty and who we should be helping stand on their own two feet.

A weak economy. An unfair society. If it all sounds depressingly familiar it’s because most of us have lived through it all before. Two parties encumbered by the same old prejudices; straitjacketed by the same old ideologies. And whichever way you look at it, left or right, if either of them get into government on their own, they will drag Britain in the same direction: backwards.

No. That’s not my Britain. That’s not the Britain I love. And I am not going to sit back while either of them sweep in and leave this nation diminished and divided because they still don’t understand what makes our country great.

Liberal Democrats think of that when you’re out campaigning in the crucial coming weeks – in your wards, in your communities, in your regions for our hardworking councillors and our excellent team of MEPs.

When I tell you that we need to get back into government again – protecting Britain from one party rule – this is why:

Because we are the guardians of a modern, open and tolerant Britain.

Because we are the only party who will not ask the British people to choose between a stronger economy and a fairer society. They don’t have to. They can have both if we make our shared mission enabling every single person to get on in life.

Because we are the only party with the imagination and ambition needed to ensure Britain draws a line under some of our worst times with our best qualities intact.

In government again the Liberal Democrats will continue rewiring our economy so that our banks are the servant and not the master. So that, instead of fake booms and reckless consumption, we invest in growth that is balanced and sustainable, which stretches across every corner of Britain and which conserves our natural resources too.

That is how we embrace a better future rather than repeat the mistakes of the past.

We’ll finish the job of balancing the books, but continuing to spread the burden fairly, as we have been in this government – giving Britain a stronger economy and a fairer society too.

The future, not the past.

We’ll continue correcting the imbalance in our tax system, so that it doesn’t just protect the wealthy but properly rewards work.

And, yes, that means that in the coming Budget Danny Alexander and I are pushing to take the Liberal Democrat income tax cut even further than we had originally planned in this parliament.

We are about to hit the target that was on the front page of our manifesto: raising the personal allowance so that no one pays a penny of income tax on the first £10,000 they earn, saving over 20 million people £700. Now we want to go beyond that, taking the total tax cut to £800.

And if we’re in government again we’ll go further still: no one paying a penny in tax on the first £12,500 they earn.

Fairer taxes. The future, not the past.

We’ll create an education system that, from toddler to graduate, allows our all of our children to rise as far as their talents and efforts will take them, irrespective of the circumstances of their birth.

The future, not the past.

We’ll transfer ever more power to our cities and communities so that they can drive their own destinies and we break Whitehall’s grip for good.

The future, not the past.

We will ensure that this country rises to the challenge that will define the 21st Century: playing our part in the fight against climate change, for the sake of our children and the planet we leave behind.

The future, not the past.

And we will live up to our greatest traditions by keeping Britain engaged, outward facing, a heavyweight in Europe and a leader in the world.

If this sounds like the Britain you want, the Liberal Democrats are the party for you.

Between now and the election my aim – our aim – is to build a coalition bringing together all of the liberal-minded, liberal-hearted men and women who love the Britain we love – and who want a party prepared to fight for it. That’s the coalition I care about. A coalition of all the people
who want to keep this nation open, tolerant, compassionate and strong.

So to the people out there who may not have voted for us before: it doesn’t matter, that’s the past. What matters now is the kind of country you want to live in. The kind of nation you want us to be.

Open not closed.

In not out.

Great Britain not little England.

Forward not back.

Hope not fear.

The future not the past.

If you have faith in this country, if you believe in Britain’s values, if you still want this incredible island of ours to keep punching above our weight and shaping the world so that it is a better place, put the Liberal Democrats back in government again – let us protect the Britain you love.

West Buckland School – Economics EU further reading

imageI’m tremendously excited about next week. I’m going back to school! Yes, a full 37 years after I left West Buckland School on the fringes of Exmoor in Devon, I will be returning there next week on two days.

On one of those days I will be involved in an outdoor endeavour of which I will write next week.

On Wednesday, through the good offices of the West Buckland School Foundation, I’ll be experiencing a “Back to school day”.

This is eerily reminiscent of John Osborne’s 1971 BBC1 ‘Play for Today’ called ‘The Right Prospectus’, where a middle-aged man, played by George Cole, became a pupil at a public school with his wife. The programme was filmed at West Buckland School in the term before I arrived there. You can see a wonderful clip of the production on YouTube here.

As part of my ‘Back to school day’ I have been honoured with an invitation to lead a discussion about the economic benefits of the EU.

Here are some further reading links related to that discussion:

House of Commons library summary of statistics related to the UK’s EU membership

The Economic Benefits to the UK of EU membership – European Movement UK

Catherine Bearder MEP’s Euromyths / My top ten Euromyths

EU position in world trade

The EU. What’s in it for me?

Politics – cognitive bias on steroids?

The BBC’s Horizon recently broadcast a wonderful programme called: “How you really make decisions”. The BBC’s website has a detailed write-up of the programme’s themes:

With every decision you take, every judgement you make, there is a battle in your mind – a battle between intuition and logic.

And the intuitive part of your mind is a lot more powerful than you may think.

License Some rights reserved by evansvilleMost of us like to think that we are capable of making rational decisions. We may at times rely on our gut instinct, but if necessary we can call on our powers of reason to arrive at a logical decision.

“If we think that we have reasons for what we believe, that is often a mistake”

We like to think that our beliefs, judgements and opinions are based on solid reasoning. But we may have to think again.

Prof Daniel Kahneman, from Princeton University, started a revolution in our understanding of the human mind. It’s a revolution that led to him winning a Nobel Prize.

His insight into the way our minds work springs from the mistakes that we make. Not random mistakes, but systematic errors that we all make, all the time, without realising.

Prof Kahneman and his late colleague Amos Tversky, who worked at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Stanford University, realised that we actually have two systems of thinking. There’s the deliberate, logical part of your mind that is capable of analysing a problem and coming up with a rational answer.

This is the part of your mind that you are aware of. It’s expert at solving problems, but it is slow, requires a great deal of energy, and is extremely lazy. Even the act of walking is enough to occupy most of your attentive mind.

Professor Kahneman’s Nobel Prize was for Economic Sciences. (There is no psychology Nobel.) In the Horizon show, they featured two of his main cognitive bias theories concerning money decisions. One is the tendency to over-focus on present, here and now considerations, rather than on future considerations. The second was the tendency to over-obsess about monetary losses to an extent which is completely out of proportion with their financial size, so that less time is spent thinking about larger amounts of money.

This all got me wondering about political opinions and cognitive bias. There is a list of cognitive bias categories here. Scanning through them, there doesn’t seem to be a single one that doesn’t figure in political opinion forming.

And, by that, I include my own political opinion forming. If I didn’t include myself, I would be guilty of a bias blind spot, which is:

The tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself.

RIP Trevor Brown, a truly great Liberal

I was very sorry indeed to hear of the death of Trevor Brown.

Trevor was a stunning example of how to live one’s life for one’s values. He sacrificed his career to fight, successfully, for improved safety in the nuclear industry. He campaigned long and hard to stop children from picking up the smoking habit. He campaigned on a variety of local issues in Newbury as a Newbury Borough Councillor and a Berkshire County Councillor.

But Trevor was also a very warm and friendly man. A lovely, lovely man with an impish, dry sense of humour. He was extremely thoughtful and, for many years, not only phoned me on my birthday to wish me a happy birthday but also phoned my wife on her birthday to wish her a happy day.

Trevor was awarded the Liberal Democrat President’s Award at the last autumn conference for his lifetime of service to the Liberal Democrat cause.

We have lost an extraordinary man. I express my sincere and deep condolences to Trevor’s family, who I know loved him and cared for him very much.

My York conference diary

nick confI’ve written this diary as a reminder to myself as to what I did at York. Also, as I am an elected representative, I feel duty bound to report back to local party members.Photo above is of Nick at his Q&A on Saturday.

Friday 7th March

I travelled to and from York by train, even though this was a little expensive compared to driving. I do enjoy sitting back on the train, as opposed to driving.

I arrived in York at midday in good time to leave my luggage at my hotel and walk back to the conference area in time for the 3pm consultative session. This involved walking 3.5 miles, mostly with luggage, but I like to keep fit.

The consultative session at 3pm was on the manifesto for the 2015 election, chaired by David Laws. A very interesting discussion during which I made two points: 1. About the importance of the EU in Foreign affairs and 2. About encouraging sustainable growth in the economy. I prefer these consultative sessions to the main conference hall debates. They are informal and fun. One feels as though one is really influencing policy at the grassroots. Whereas the hall debates involve quite a lot of “showboating”.

After collecting the lanyard for my ID card, I attended the “In Europe” rally in the main hall. Vince Cable made a very personal speech about his upbringing in York and why he has worked hard to improve further education/adult learning. His mother’s life was considerably improved by adult learning. She became a guide to York Minster as a result.

The rally had some excellent speeches about our place in Europe, mostly by women MEPs – hurrah! Our very own Catherine Bearder made a very good speech.

I then decamped to the Novotel hotel to attend an excellent fringe meeting on the Digital Bill of Rights with “Big Brother Watch” and Tim Farron, Julian Huppert and Jenny Woods. A fascinating discussion with standing room only. I asked a question about the UK allegedly doing surveillance for the NSA which would be illegal on US soil. Tim Farron agreed this was a big concern.

It was then 9.30pm and, aware I would need to get up early in the morning, I walked the 1.5 miles back to my hotel. I then found the nearby pub had finished serving food, so found a very amenable local kebab shop for a late night large doner kebab with all the trimmings.
demoAbove: TUC demonstration outside the conference centre on Saturday

Saturday 8th March

I got up at 5.45am to do my 40 minute run as part of my training schedule for a 10.6 mile run across Exmoor on 27th March. I got to York Minster and turned round. That has to be one of the most picturesque turning points for a run!

I then high-tailed it to the conference hall to be there at 8.10am ready for my stint staffing the Liberal Democrat History group’s stall for 75 minutes. It was my first time doing this, and I thoroughly enjoyed. A new book on Joseph Rowntree arrived. Very attractive book with great photos. I bought a copy for my daughter for her seventeenth birthday. She works for a chocolate shop and is very interested in the history of chocolate.

At 9.45am I attended the debate on Migration. The motion passed was very balanced and sensible, and built on a great deal of thorough and wise work by the policy team, led by the very wise and experienced Sir Andrew Stunnell. The most controversial point was around elderly relatives being brought into the country.

I am friends with Caron Lindsay, one of the co-editors of Liberal Democrat Voice, following my two-year stint on the editorial team, which ended last year. She and Stephen, one of the other co-editors, have invited me back onto the team to help with photo management. I was delighted to accept. Caron is good enough to allow me to walk round the conference with her. I then get the “back wash” of all her extensive contacts coming up to chat. One of those was the great Alistair Carmichael. I was able to tell him of my love of Islay single malt whiskies. He comes from Islay. He corrected my pronunciation of “Caol Ila” – for which I was very grateful. It made my conference, in fact!

I then watched the TUC demonstration pass by the conference hall. It was a very impressive display. People of all ages and backgrounds got up early to travel to York having prepared ingenious placards. You have to hand it to them. They have passion! It was an extremely well-organized demonstration.

At 1pm, I attended a Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association fringe on mental health in the justice system. It was very moving. The whole situation is dreadful. – How mentally ill people get treated as criminals. Fortunately Norman Lamb gave us good news on various initiatives, including injecting mental health workers into the arrest process. It’s only a pilot at this stage.

I then visited Cliffords Tower in York. The view from the top of the Minster was awesome. A lovely break from the conference hall and to be surrounded by young Japanese tourists, rather than LibDems! I do find that after about 24 hours in the conference I just have to escape or I can actually feel claustrophobic.

I then attended Nick’s Q&A. He was very on form as always. I am very impressed by the sheer volume of initiatives and points he has in his head.

I then attended the Policy motion on “Power to the People” about the constitution. Again, a very balanced motion. One controversial point was about regional devolution. Summary: if people want it they can have it. But don’t force it on them if they don’t want it.

I then attended another fringe led by the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association. This time it was on “Zero hours contracts”. I went because my daughter and wife are on “zero hours contracts” in some capacities. The debate was extremely illuminating and Jenny Willott was very impressive in her speech.

I then escaped conference (again) and had a Lamb Shank and pint of Black Sheep at the excellent Mason Arms where I chanced upon some LibDems I know from Nottingham and Calderdale. A very heated and liberal debate about politicians breaking the law then ensued!

The Glee Club then followed. Catherine Bearder got up on stage and asked for any of her constituents to join her. So I did. About twenty of us then essayed “Day we went to Brighton” to the tune of “Day we went to Bangor”. Our rather haphazard singing was cited by the host, Gareth Epps, as proof of how difficult it is to organize a campaign in Europe’s largest seat!

I left the Glee at about midnight.
yorkPhoto above is of York Minster from the top of Cliffords Tower

Sunday 9th March

Another early start, getting up at 6.45am to attend Holy Communion at the York Minster at 8am. It was presided over by the Dean, the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull. A beautiful service in gob-smacking surroundings. I paused and listened to the bells afterwards. Mind blowing.

At 10:45am I attended the debate on the Digital Bill of Rights motion, which was passed overwhelmingly. A lump in throat moment. I was very pleased!

After the usual Presidential banter and collection we had Nick’s speech. I was very impressed. My eyes were welling up (seriously) when he described why he loves this country. He perfectly captured the quirky, passionate, tolerant, liberal spirit of these islands.

At York station afterwards I was able to congratulate Nick in person when I saw him bounding down the platform with his retinue in his wake!

I got home at 7pm.

Other things I did at the conference were:

Chatted with Liberal Democrat Women, took place in their raffle and reviewed their photographs of all the women who have been chosen to fight seats, including our Judith Bunting. I am a member of Liberal Democrat Women.

Went into the Liberal Democrat Voice editorial suite, which was dressing room 2, and took a photo of Caron and Stephen, two of the co-editors, hard at work.

I joined LGBT+ Liberal Democrats.

I joined the Liberal Democrats Friends of Palestine.

I received a briefing from the John Muir Trust on their work to conserve this country’s wildest places.

I chatted to the people on the Visit York and the Visit Glasgow stalls.

I hooked up with several people from the large Newbury delegation at conference such as Judith Bunting, Sue Farrant, Simon Pike, Martha Vickers, Tony Vickers, Ruwan Uduerage-Pererra and David Rendel.

I met many other old friends such as Lord Roger Roberts, Tim Farron, James Gurling, Erlend Watson, Vera Head, Stephen Tall, Nick Thornsby, Vera Roberts, Alex Wilcock, Richard Flowers etc etc

Alcohol consumed: 1 pint of Black Sheep Bitter at the Masons Arms, 2 glasses of red wine at the opening conference reception.

Generally, this was an excellent conference in a superb location, where we were given a very warm welcome by the people of York.

TUC demo outside conference today

I watched this “A Better Way” demonstration go past the conference centre this morning. It was organised by the Yorkshire and Humberside TUC.

I was just gobsmacked by the whole thing. There were masses of people of all ages and backgrounds, from physiotherapists to actors. The ingenuity which had been put into the many placards was, alone, remarkable.

Then I looked at the demo website, which is awesome. The in-depth organisation across wide communities, behind this event, was staggering.

The demo was very well behaved, with the participants keeping inside agreed lines.

Well done Yorkshire and Humberside TUC. An awesome event. I take my hat off to you all.

It all certainly made me pause for thought.

Did it make me ashamed to be a Liberal Democrat? Strangely, not one iota. While a visual exercise in democracy, calling out “shame” and “Tories” doesn’t get anyone anywhere and is very old hat.

I can assure the TUC folk that we are a lot more cutting amongst ourselves about the painful choices of coalition.

Caution all Scots coming to the York Lib Dem conference

imageIt’s legal to kill a Scotsman with a bow and arrow in York, except on Sundays. It must be true, it’s on the Daily Record website. They’re Scots. So just be careful this weekend.

And this law predates Alex Salmond, by the way.

PS. Some websites say you can only kill a Scotsman in York if he is carrying a bow and arrow, which makes a bit more sense.

Photo of York: License Some rights reserved by ospalh