We are only a couple of days away from the start of the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, this year to be held in Birmingham. So I have been busy leafing through the agenda, juggling my schedule, and deciding on my plans for several days of wall to wall Lib Dem style politics.
This is what my conference looks like so far.
I won’t be getting to Birmingham until after lunch on Saturday so I will be missing the three consultative sessions in the morning. Which is a shame because in some ways they will be three of the more important topics discussed at conference. Getting local government finance right during this time of austerity is a challenge which has a huge impact on how people experience public services on the ground and therefore on how they perceive the government. Plus there are the implications for tax policy. The mid-term review will set the agenda for the latter part of the term of the coalition government. Finally understanding what happened in the most recent set of local elections, why we did so badly, and learning lessons from it is crucial to help the party adjust it’s campaigning for the next four years. All three of these will be discussed while I am on my way up.
But I should be there in time for the debate on elections to the House of Lords so I can give my support to the motion. This is a more important debate than it may first appear. Conference needs to send a clear signal to those Liberal Democrat peers that have gone oddly wobbly on this issue of what the party at large expects them to do. I have written more about the background to this here.
The following debate on the Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments will be an important one also. I am expecting some passion to be displayed in the speeches on this one.
The evening may start with me going along to the conference rally although that may depend on who I have run into by that time. But after 20:15 you will find me joining my regional colleagues at the East of England reception. Then it is on to one of the highlights of conference. Yes it is this years Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards. I hoping for some entertaining acceptance speeches from the grateful recipients of a BOTY.
Sunday seems to have become training day for me. I’ve marked off a few training courses that seem useful and so will hopefully be learning some new stuff. Regrettably that will mean I am likely to miss the fireworks in the Accreditation for Party Conference debate at 09:00 and the jokes in Sarah Teather MP’s speech at 11:15.
I will be feeding my inner geek at lunchtime as I will be going to the Local, Social, Digital fringe to find out the latest about what happens when social media meets politics. This does mean I will miss out on seeing what happens when Hollywood meets Lib Demmery as I will miss the Social Liberal Forum and Hacked Off Campaign fringe on phone hacking and privacy attended by actor Hugh Grant.
Hopefully, I will be finished with the training in time to vote in the debate on drugs which starts at 16:40.
I am slightly overwhelmed with the choice of fringe events for Sunday evening. I’m also noticing there seems to be a choice of buffet. Although I think “the Demos Grill” might be a poor choice if you are after a kebab. There are some excellent speakers on offer also. Although disappointingly the Chief Executive of the CIA turns out to be someone from the Chemical Industries Association. I think it might be Philip Blond from ResPublica at 18:15 and Will Hutton from the Work Foundation at 20:00.
Finally, I expect to end the evening at the Local Government Reception which is usually entertaining.
I will be spending Monday morning mostly in the main hall. The key debate will be on the policy development agenda policy paper Facing the Future. This is the party thinking ahead to the next manifesto and I expect looking for themes for the mid-term review. I am not expecting much excitement. Indeed these sorts of debates can often by quite predictable. But I will be looking to see if I can detect the trends that the party most wants our policy to follow and to judge whether I agree with them or not.
The choice of lunchtime fringe is again a very wide one. Those who missed Hugh Grant the day before and are after a bit of star power can choose from the Olympics’ Seb Coe and TV’s Quentin Wilson. Although you don’t get Feargal Sharkey until Tuesday. The Guardian Debate has a good line up including Paddy Ashdown so that might be worth a go.
In the afternoon I will probably be in the hall for the Q&A with Nick Clegg and the debate on the digital economy.
There is the temptation to spend much of Monday evening in a good pub with proper beer. However, there are two fringe meetings that I have in the diary. Unfortunately they are both at the same time. I would like to be at the Liberal Democrat History Group meeting where Paddy Ashdown and Shirley Williams will be helping to launch a new history of Liberal politics in Britain. However, I feel rather obliged to be at the Love Luton Campaign meeting which I’ve written about here.
I’m trying to keep Tuesday mostly free so I have some space to arrange to meet up with people. Networking, plotting and gossiping. I also think I will spend part of Tuesday having a proper look around the various conference stands. It might also be the opportunity to see some of the sights of Birmingham.
However, I will be back in the main hall for the Quality of Life debate at 15:50 and then for the Community Politics debate at 17:20. This last one is the debate I am most interested in this conference and the only one I am considering putting in a card to speak in. Although I might not be saying what you would expect me to say. I hope to write a bit more about this later.
Tuesday evening may or may not end with songs at the traditional Glee Club depending on what mood I am in.
I am going to attempt an early start on Wednesday morning and get in the hall for 9:00 for the debate on internal election regulations. I do appreciate how nerdy that makes me sound! But it is something I have written about before so I want to be there to make my vote count.
After that there are a couple of interesting foreign policy sessions that I may stay in the hall for, but I tend to take things easy on the Wednesday morning of conference. However, we do have the addition of the controversial debate on the NHS reforms just before lunch. This has potential to be a good old fashioned conference versus the leadership ding dong. But we will see. Then of course there is the leader’s speech. This will be a challenging one for Nick Clegg to make so I will be fascinated to see what the themes will be.
Conference for me will then come to a close with my traditional leisurely late lunch before heading home.
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.