I’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.
Above: 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!
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.