Wednesday, September 20, 2006

For regular attendees, returning to Lib Dem conference becomes increasingly like going to a gathering of the extended family. The more times you go, the more other Conference Reps you know, and the more Lib Dem friends you meet up with who lived in your area a few years – or a decade – ago. Some of the old friends I met up with voted a different way on the big issue of Conference – yesterday’s tax debate – but that never gets in the way of a chat and a drink.

At last night’s BBC reception, John Culshaw, who did a stand-up routine, commented that Lib Dems laugh at ourselves more than the other Parties – New Labour first check to see who else is laughing. Perhaps the facts that we don’t take ourselves too seriously and we feel free to react how we feel helps explain why Lib Dem conference is such a comfortable place to be.

A quote from Simon Carr Independent 19th Sept. "There's an ad on the side of the bus down here. A boy is saying: "I like to sit upstairs at the front! I pretend I'm the driver!" It's the Lib Dem role model!" Mr Carr we're for real. Ming wins his races - at Olympic level.

Being good at relay racing must mean creating a good team, and that describes our MPs. I now have great respect for the British voter. Didn't they do well to recognise QUALITY when they voted in the Lb Dem team.

Mr Carr --- we don't just have the driver, the bus maintenance team, but we will have more customers than one bus can hold, and the confidence and skills to run a fleet of buses.

Mr Blair has done stirling work at increasing our membership through his foreign policy, but I for one prefer our own methods to move membership forward

But be warned once a member you are encouraged to take challenging action.
This morning I told friends about the Lebanese manager of a Brighton restaurant, just back from marking cluster bombs with red spray paint. He said he is not brave,its just part of the cycle of Lebanese history

Instantly, they have me filling in a card and twenty minutes later I'm on the platform giving my first conference speech. Whatever next!


So how does Brighton rate as a conference venue? We, obviously it's one of the places we come to most regularly, and it's got quite a lot going for it. The conference centre itself is a good venue, though pretty much the same as most other modern conference centres. The Metropole Hotel is probably one of the better conference hotels we use. I suspect most people breathed a sigh of relief when we started using that rather than the Grand, a few conferences ago. I always felt that the Grand was rather grudging about allowing ordinary conference reps use their facilities. Certainly, back in the days when I was a Young Liberal I always felt that they probably wouldn't have even let me in the door for the rest of the year.

As a town (well, city now) Brighton's got a lot going for it. It's certainly got the best selection of restaurants of any of the venues we use, including probably the best vegetarian restaurant in the country. It's also got a number of very good pubs (for anyone down here, the Evening Star on Surrey Street just down from the station is definately worth a visit). The big disadvantage is the fact that IT IS VERY EXPENSIVE. Everything always seems to cost much more than in Bournemouth / Harrogate / Torquay etc. That's particularly the case with accomodation, which is obviously a major consideration. Rather surprisingly, there also seems to be less accomodation in Brighton than the other major conference venues.

Overall though, I do like Brighton as a venue. I was talking to a friend the other day who is running a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference next week. They're going to Manchester! Well, I've nothing against Manchester as a city, but for a party conference venue? I'll take Brighton any day.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I have enjoyed attending fringe-meetings with the opportunity to hear our enthusiastic and knowledgeable shadow speakers on Culture and Health. There are also an amazing number of training courses for all the skills we need in the Party. They’ve even managed to get me to use a computer.

At the Arts Council Fringe told that budget for arts will be decreased be Labour until 2012 to provide a grand budget for visitors to Olympics and also attending art events. What other budgets will be cut to cover costs, such as police?

At the Health fringe the present Labour policy was described as one inept plan colliding with another inept plan.

At The Independent rally Steve Richards asked at next election would we go to bed with Labour or Tory.

Dear Independent you have set us a great example of independence and may we both be successful following the ideals of independence.

Off in haste to main conference hall, bye.

Tax, Kennedy, and Radio 5

Well, it's been a bit of an unusual day. The big issue today, and probably the big policy issue for the whole conference was this morning's debate on our new tax policy. It's sometimes worth remembering that, unlike the other parties we actually get to vote on this sort of thing. That said, I can't say I was terribly happy with the way in which conference actually did vote. For those of you not following these things, the big area of controversy was the proposal to drop our commitment to introduce a higher (50%) rate of tax for ultra high earners, specifically on inconmes over £150,000 per year. From my knowledge of the way in which Party Conference has voted in the past, I was expecting that this proposal would be soundly defeated, particularly as it opposed by a number of senior and well respected MPs (particularly Evan Harris and Phil Willis). Sadly, however, that wasn't the case, and the motion was passed with a fairly large majority, indeed much larger than I ever expected. Perhaps even more depressing was the whole attitude of Conference, which seemed positively enthusiastic about the idea of being in favour of tax cuts, even for the very rich. Indeed there seemed a worrying number of people who clearly didn't regard £150K a year income as anything that unusual. In the past you could normally guarantee a good reception by using the word "radical" a lot - today I think it would have lost votes.

The afternoon was really all about Charles Kennedy's speech. Overall, it was very good, but realistically the details of what he ws saying were never important. What really mattered was the fact that the Party had an opportunity to show that he was still liked and respected, and that we still feel he is an important and senior figure in the Party.

And then I got interviewed live on Radio 5 Live about Kennedy's speech! They were looking for a couple of people to give an immediate response to the speech, and I had the big advantage of being on the balcony (I arrived late) and therefore capable of being interviewed at the back without getting in anyone's way. It semed to go pretty well (well, I don't think I embarrassed either myself or the Party), but if you heard me, let me know!


Well, I've finally got here. And the first motion of any interest was the one on diversity and candidate selection. Perhaps it's a sign of having been around for a long time that you start getting intested in constitutional amendments and internal party matters - perhaps I'm turning into John Smithson (centrist sell-out merchant)!

Seriously though, the whole question of encouraging candidates from minority (or indeed under-represented majority) groups has always been one which gives me great difficulty. Obviously, the parliamentary party is dominted by white, middle class men, and obviously that's wrong. On the other hand, what's produced this is a democratic party structure, and if we are serious about being a locally based, decentralised party how can we really interfere with that? Frankly, the proposal which was passed was a fairly wooly (sic?) liberal 'We're not telling you what to do but....' one. I'll be honest, I abstained. It was one of those circumstance where I really didn't know which way to vote.

Yesterday wrote first blog. Then went to evening meeting about blogging. Realised after reading blog leaflet that this was wrong order for activity. Why, because leaflet said be short and snappy.

Also went to meeting on debt and realized how easy it is to be caught in a financial prison. Should the change from mortgage = 3x salary to mortgage =5 or 6 x salary have happened. If housing market over heats and job market collapses isn’t this a recipe for disaster? Might anxiety over climate change cause such a collapse?What controls, if any should government have over profit making financial products? Do you have any solutions? Why pressure to own a home, are we stigmatized as failure for renting? Feeling angry over meeting on Adult Education. Why is education at any age seen only in terms of producing a money making, spending person? Isn’t education the greatest civilizing force we have?

Monday, September 18, 2006

I'm Jon Ball - I'm a member of the Lib Dem Federal Conference Committee and I'm also involved in Lib Dems Online. I've organised the last two conference blogs but this is the first time I've dipped my toe in the water of blogging myself.

The online world of e-campaigning has reached increasing prominance at this Conference. On Sunday I attended the first Lib Dem blog of the year awards, won by Stephen Tall, at which Lynne Featherstone mentioned in her speech that half the people there were bloggers and the other half were attracted by the free bar. A mixture of bloggers and blaggers, she could have added...

In the conference hall itself today, Ed Davey delivered a presentation on the party's communication strategy. A major thrust of his message was the role of eCampaigning as part of grassroots community politics. More people use the internet than voted at the last general election, and for many, the internet is their source of news. Technology is politics' great leveller; we can use it to reach out beyond our target seats. I think Ed hit the nail on the head here.

Looking ahead, the media are right that the issue everyone is talking about in the bars is the tax debate, but they are dead wrong that the crucial factor is whether Conference Reps are debating whether to support Ming by voting for the tax reform paper or bash him by amending it.

It may sound naive but most Lib Dems are discussing the pros and cons of the proposals in the paper and amendments. Whichever way they vote tomorrow morning, it will be for what they think is the best policy.

Perhaps the media's obsession with personalities is because they tend to spend Conference talking either to each other or to a subset of MPs so don't get much of a feel for how the average Rep operates? This is where blogging and eCampaigning can bypass the mainstream media and communicate directly with the people.

Off To Brighton!

So, it's early Monday morning (well, fairly early!), and I'm finally off to Brighton, albeit a day or two later than most of the other conference reps.

A word about myself. My name is Jeremy Sanders, I'm 45, and I live in the Colne Valley, just west of Huddersfield. Politcally, I've always been a Liberal, having joined the Liberal Party as a student in 1979, and have been a member of the Liberal Party / Liberal Democrtats ever since.

So what am I looking forward to over the next few days? Well, first and foremost obviously the tax motion. To be honest, I remain to be convinced about this. Something which seems to involve a basic shift from direct to indirect taxation isn't really the message I want to see the Party putting across. In particular the move to scrap the 50% rate for the very high earners seems a very bad idea.

Anyway, that's for tomorrow. For now I've got to get down to Brighton, find the hotel, and see what I can of this afternoons debates. Then it's checking out a few finge meetings (possibly), and hanging around the bar (definately).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Woke up on Saturday morning to Radio 4 news saying Ming is to have a rough ride

Impressed by action of our local Branch as the postman has just delivered the latest ‘Focus’ with details of changes to our local party structure due to boundary changes. How’s that for timing?

Smooth ride by tube, train and taxi to our hotel in Brighton. Joined with taxi driver in bemoaning sabotage of West pier in Brighton. He displayed the average voter’s confidence in Council indecision.

Multi tasking - eating and reading International law

Question: If as a result of Nuremburg trials, law holds individual to account for crimes against humanity, how can George W still be president? (only joking). A New Yorker we met in the subway would be happy to see this dictator removed (explanation: traveller in New York subway declared that George Bush is to change USA into a police state)

Lebanese waitress has just brought some delicious food, so that my inner engine will produce fine head of steam over injustice in the world.

Thank you Ming, for calming my steam with policy 2.1.: ‘all members of UN shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state or any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the UN’.

Oh dear, steam returning. ‘May take military action where a threatened attack is imminent’. How can we know a threat is genuine until it becomes an attack (Iraq)? Khrushchev pretended to have a far larger nuclear arsenal in order to help his exchequer costs.

2.2. case of Iraq – does not go as far a pointing out that the UN inspector Blix stated there was no evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

How can we expect to turn US into UN poodle when it is the main source of UN finance?

My Lebanese mint tea has calmed me a little. Now reading 3.4.2 - criminalise terrorists – does that not recognise the power in their existence? Is the pen or laptop not more influential than depleted uranium?

17.30 – the Old Ship hotel for tea. My other half agreeing with me. Why are non-efficient light bulbs still on sale? Why are we not offered a range of dual flush toilets?

We tried the poor mans alternative – a hippo in the tank - believe me it took 6 flushes to down the brown. The lethargy over the government‘s non action over climate change is very depressing.

Can we have positive decisions and actions from above? No not God - he has his head in his hands over us, wishing the sixth day had also been a day of rest.

This reviving tea I am drinking is English Breakfast. Will climate warming mean locally sourced tea?

Still reading policy on human rights. Is rendering something a butcher does to meat? Is there a connection between rendering and rendition?

18.00 - time off to visit the Marina. Does it contain green yachts or non green power boats? 19.00 – at the Marina. Why are developers allowed to develop to the lowest standard?

Back to 4.2. in policy ‘torture and inhuman treatment’. ‘Not only torture but cruel inhuman and degrading treatment is prohibited under international laws’. Obviously it does not include the use of dogs who were not obeying orders!

‘The referral of cases of systematic abuse to UN for consideration of punitive action‘ Can the UN bite the hand that feeds it over bases in Cuba? Whoops, I forgot, Cuba is not in the USA.

Rejoice guys, Policy asks for public enquiry into allegations of extraordinary rendition. Further rejoicing, with Labour in power, we can place bets with William Hill on the outcome as there can only be one – a whitewash.

‘Articles 3 of the Geneva convention and Article 75 of additional protocol state that any prisoner, no matter what his status is entitled to be humanely treated and may not be subject to legal sanction without fair trial’ Poor GW – with not enough time to read these articles! Long life to Amnesty international.

Now on to the international economy, i.e. a world free of poverty. I can find lots about free trade, World Bank, aid to combat diseases, but I can find nothing about the armaments trade. So the question: do weapons aid warlords to destabilise countries and their economies. Is the reply, that the manufacturers of armaments provide jobs for voters, and we only make armaments for our own protection and cannot be held responsible for their misuse. The dead don’t know they are poor. Stuff happens!

Whatever makes you think I am disillusioned.

Here comes something to remove disillusion. As the foreign policy states, ‘extend(ing) the liability of company directors to make them responsible for the social and environmental impacts of their companies and their subsidiaries.

So the poor inhabitants of the ‘Stans’ can be reimbursed when oil companies pollute their lands. Now don’t you go getting cynical on me, surely you don’t believe big companies will spend big bucks to get off their hook

Its now 21.45 and I am blogging off.

See you tomorrow.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

There was a thud! And then another!

Postie had arrived but little did I know how much 'stuff' there would be to absorb about the conference

My wife (Doreen) and I (David) ploughed our way through it all over the previous weekend and identified the range of activities that interested us both

Surprise, surprise we each want to be in 5 different places at one time!!

The final decisons were very difficult but eventually I produced a spreadsheet that showed what we were both doing and how much overlap there was - and therefore when we might meet for coffee. Hopefully we'll meet for at least one breakfast! And, she tells me there is a good 'chippie' on the sea front

The good news is that it (apart from the chippie that is ) is likely to help my diet! Doreen says there wont be time for much matrimonial communication - sounds like bad news to me!

Now to the packing, telling the cats we are going and then getting out the house without them noticing.

Brighton here we come

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