This was not just my first LibDem conference, but my first political conference. Hence I approached it with some anticipation and some nerves, if I’m honest! It was held in York, and I hadn’t been there for a few years, so I looked forward to renewing my acquaintance with a lovely city which had suffered badly in flooding earlier this year.
I stayed in the Hilton Hotel, partly because the fringe session I was helping to run was to be held there, but also because of getting a good rate by advance booking. It was as comfortable as expected, and located 10 minutes or so from the York Barbican, where the main sessions were to be held.
My feelings on arrival at the conference on the Friday night for the opening events can be summed up by confusion and being somewhat lost. I knew no-one, and at that point I hadn’t even met my session co-organiser! So I waited, had a glass of questionable white wine in the welcome reception, and eventually got a text from my session co-organiser to say he had arrived and was leafletting for our event outside. So I went outside and joined him, and was handing out leaflets within an hour of arrival! A baptism of fire, but I was glad to be doing something useful. There was plenty of interest in our event, which was a good sign.
When the time came for the Opening Rally, I went back into the convention centre and took my seat. It was good to hear Catherine Bearder speak on the INtogether campaign, and to hear Tim Farron’s passionate speech. I was less impressed by the inclusion of a junior hospital doctor who had just joined the party. OK, she made a good speech, championing her cause, but I did feel as if it was slightly a case of the LibDems jumping on the band wagon here. But overall the rally was a good way to get the conference ‘warmed up’, and I left on a positive note.
The following morning, Saturday, I made an early start to get to the convention centre to do more leafletting for our event, due to be held at lunchtime. I tweeted that there was some irony in that my fellow ‘leafleteers’ were from Friends of the Earth (anti-fracking), and Republic! (See https://twitter.com/robajackson/status/708608126627532800)
However we continued to get plenty of interest in our event, and when we stopped at about 11:00, we felt that we had certainly publicised the event as much as we could. After a much-needed coffee, it was time to go to the Hilton to set up for our event. The room we had been allocated was small and cosy, but we felt that a small full room would be preferable to a larger one with spaces!
Our event went well. After an introduction from Julie Smith, Roger Liddle started proceedings. He is a Labour Lord, but originally an SDP member. He was followed by Vince Cable, who has in his time been a Labour, SDP and Liberal Democrat member, and held an influential ministerial role in the coalition government of 2010-2015. I won’t attempt to discuss the content of their speeches, but they both talked about what was necessary for the centre-left to regain influence, and their talks were both interesting and inspiring. You can hear them both here.
Following our event, we had our first Social Democrat Group committee meeting, which was useful, mainly to meet people and find out their views of what the group should do in future.
After a brief trip to the Exhibition, which was busy and rather cramped, I returned to the hotel, and in the evening visited some interesting hostelries in York City Centre (as mentioned on Twitter and Facebook at the time).
On Sunday morning after breakfast I had a final trip to the York Barbican, and then headed back to the station and home. It had been an interesting experience, and probably certainly not my last LibDem party conference!