My first conference was there - the last full Liberal Assembly in September 1987 that agreed to go ahead with merger.
It is a lovely town, it is in Yorkshire and the Conference Centre is ideal for our Spring Conference.
Overall I found the experince slightly odd, as it is the first conference for sixteen years that I have attended as an ordinary representative rather than having a packed diary of training and meetings. This did mean I had plenty of time to simply sit around and chat to folk.
Children & Education
And it was good conference. The policy theme was children and education, a theme that unites the party on all but some detail.
We agreed a coherent set of policies that will lead to investment at every level with a clear focus on providing better opportunities to those who start with the least life chances.
Importantly we also reaffirmed our clear opposition to Tuition Fees without a murmur of dissent and with several emphatic speechedin favour of the policy. Even better we have widened the policy to include part-time students and adult returners to FE.
The highlight of the conference for me was watching Governor Howard Dean speak to an enthusiastic welcome and then to discuss his campaign strategy at a smaller meeting.
Having followed Governor Dean's campaign for the nomination last time, and his work as Chair of DNC, I was really excited to see him in the flesh and delighted to be able to ask him a question in the later meeting.
There are a lot of lessons we can learn from him (although we have to understand that not everything that worked for him and then Obama will necessarily transfer straight across)
The key points for me were:
- The internet is only a tool, it won't do any good if you haven't got something to say
- It is important to invest in a basic organisation across the board, but to still target extra resources into winnable races once you have identified them
- The internet community is a community and we have engage with it and treat it with respect
- We need to ask everyone to vote for us and to discuss issues with them based on where there is common ground, even if they are not traditional supporters or likely to support us initially
- There are thousands of good ideas out there amongt our supporters and we have to be willing to take some risks in order to allow the good ideas to surface
Happy Birthday Oadby & Wigston and Vale of White Horse
The Lib Dem LGA group organised a 'Birthday Party' to celebrate our 18 years control of Oadby & Wigston and our 14 years control of the Vale.
I was delighted to attend this event as I had helped a lot during the 1991 campaign in Oadby, specifically organising the student campaign in the Leicester Uni Halls of Residence in Oadby and writing and prnting leaflets) and ran the campaign in the Vale in 1995.
My old friend and now Lib Dem LGA chief staffer Ed Fordham was organising the vent and I was as chuffed as cheese when he asked me if I would say a few words about my memories of the two campaigns.
It was also lovely to catch up with the Oadby & Wigston crowd that I hadn't seen for years.
Well done Reading
My good friends in Reading Lib Dems picked up a prize for top growth in membership. This is well deserved by Gareth Epps and his team and it is particularly good to see that the student branch there is doing so well too.
There were a lot of young people and students at the conference and it is good to see that there seems to be something of a growth in the number of active student branches. Our decision on Tuition Fees can only help that growth continue.
It was also good to hear that Liberal Youth are planning to reinitiate Activate weekends (the first of which was run by Hywel Morgan and myself too many years ago to remember and featured the excellent Jo Swinson as one of its participants) and an Executive Training weekend.
And finally ...
I got a sense that there is a renewed confidence in the party.
This is partly due to Vince's credibility, partly due to Nick steadily finding his feet, partly because we went with our instincts on education and fees, and partly because, whatever the polls say, we have more people fighting stronger campaigns in more places than ever before.
Keep at it folks!