I'm finding this conference an odd experience. It's my 23rd Autumn Conference (Well the first was technically an Assembly, but you know what I mean) and the first since 1993 that I haven't been working for the party.
For the last few years my conference diary consisted of numerous training sessions, meetings with seats and the occasional fringe on behalf of the Campaigns Department. There was at least one where I never actually made it into the Conference Centre at all.
This one's different.
My conference diary has lots of gaps in it and I've got time to be sitting here in the hotel bar (Like Ms Rigg we have free wi-fi in my hotel but the signal is only strong enough in the bar and lobby - so I am writing this while litsening to dreadful piped music that even the older guests (of whom there are many) must find a tad slow).
Yesterday was the busy day diary wise. It started with a training session which I was co-training with the formidable Jeanette Sunderland from Bradford. We were training a small but high quality group of activists about 'Capacity and team building' which I enjoyed, particularly as Jeanette did most of the work.
I was left with an abiding feeling that I really wouldn't want to be the Labour MP on the end of the campaign Jeanette is planning for Bradford East.
I then attended a meeting between my former colleagues in the Campaigns Department and Regional Party Officers which was led by our excellent leader of campaigns Hilary Stephenson and then the other leader turned up and talked to us about the big policy issues facing the party. He seemed relaxed and on good form and answered questions clearly.
I then headed for the conference centre and into the hall. As a member of the Federal Policy Committee I thought I ought to be there to hear our report to conference, which was so exciting that it attracted not a single question.
Then the debate on the Real Women policy paper (which has been exciting the 'bloggosphere' a lot) was underway.
I sat, slightly nervously,, as I had earlier put in a card to speak against the amendment proposed by Bernard Salmon.
I thought the debate was very good, with most of the speeches being of a very high quality and covering a wide range of issues. Jo Swinson introduced the paper with a very strong contribution and I particularly enjoyed Laura Willoughby's speech about women's sport and suspect she is right about the reasons why the boys were keen for her to stop playing rugby ;-)
Just as the debate was heading for the end (and I had assumed I wasn't going to be called after all) the Chair, Sarah Boad, asked me to stand by.
Whenever I am about to speak I get butterflies in my tummy although I have learnt from experience how to handle them. This is partly because I've not actually spoken to the full conference hall very often, although I have done lots of training, speaking at fringe meetings etc.. This was only my fourth speech in a debate.
I never write full speeches as I tend to end up concentrating too much on the paper rather than the audience if I do. I prefer to write down bullet points and then make it up as I go along from them. I find this makes it easier to react to the audience (who, on this occasion, were very kind). I'm not a great speechwriter in a technical sense although I did chuck in the 'list of three' at the end whch worked well and led to a level of applause that took me a little by surprise.
More importantly I did have what I felt was a strong case to make and I was delighted when the vote was so strongly in favour of the motion but against Amendment 2.
After a bite of lunch I then met with Katy Riddle who is about to leave Winchester to become our Campaigns Officer in South Central Region. This means she will be supporting me in my role working for Oxford West & Abingdon and Wantage constituencies in the run up to the General Election.
It was then off to the Premier Inn (Everything's Premier but the price, and , on this occasion, the wheelchair lift) for the fringe meeting 'Campaigning After Rennard' organised by those nice people at Lib Dem Voice.
I was on the panel along with Lynne Featherstone and James Graham with Mark Pack in the Chair.
We each gave our thoughts, with a fair amount of common ground, and then there were a large batch of pertinent questions.
Then it was time for dinner and we headed a few doors down to the Indian for a lovely curry with Alex, Helen, Andrew and Costigan.
After that I headed back to the hotel (via dropping in on a few former Campaigns colleagues for a brief chat).
A busy day, but a fun one.