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Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats

Lib Dem Conference Diary: Day 1, Brighton to Bournemouth

September 21, 2017 5:30 PM
By Beatrice Bass

Getting up at 7am on a Saturday kind of hurts, but I have a good reason - today is the first day of the Liberal Democrats Autumn Conference. A few Brighton & Hove members already made their way to Bournemouth last night in time for the pre-Conference Lib Dem Pint, but I saved my energy for the weekend and am meeting the remaining Brighton conference goers, including the two George Taylors (yes, there are two of them) on the train to Bournemouth.

Beatrice George Hilary and other George on train to Bournemouth (Beatrice Bass)

Beatrice Bass and George Taylor on train to Bournemouth (Beatrice Bass)

We use our travelling time wisely and study the Conference Agenda in order to finalise our already rammed diaries with policy motion debates, training sessions and fringe events. The only thing that will be lacking over the next four days will be sleep - sleep and Lib Dem Conference don't seem to go together.

As soon as we get to Bournemouth we spot people with yellow Conference passes everywhere; the town is buzzing with Lib Dems. The conference has a bit of a school trip and reunion feel; I am pleased to reunite with acquaintances from other constituencies as soon as I step into the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC).

Two minutes into being at the BIC, I find myself in front of a camera giving a statement about why we need to campaign for better mental health services in this country. This is a good start! Next thing I watch the charming Layla Moran give a passionate speech on education. She wants the Lib Dems to be the party of education and provide a visionary leadership, promoting modern, progressive education policies and reform. It is a speech well delivered and well received. Her comments about the House of Commons gain a big cheer: "It is more bonkers than I thought it would be. I had to regularly suppress the inner teacher in me."

Beatrice interview MH (Beatrice Bass)

Layla Moran sepaks at Bournemouth (Beatrice Bass)

The Lib Dems are undoubtedly the most pro-European party in Britain. Naturally, quite a few pro-EU events are found on the Conference Agenda. I attend a panel discussion with Dr. Omar Khan (director of the Runnnymeade trust), Martin Bailey (chair of pro-Europa), Vince Cable and Jo Swinson, hosted by our excellent MEP Catherine Bearder.

Jo Swinson emphasises the importance of changing people's minds - if we cannot get Brexit voters onto our side, we cannot achieve an Exit from Brexit. It is a theme that will be repeated throughout Conference. Vince Cable points out the negative effect of Brexit on the economy and businesses. The confidence in investment is readily drained away by the current uncertainty and Brexit is also draining away European talent. Vince brings to our attention that the government is stuck with a certain transition deal idea that simply cannot happen as the UK cannot cherry pick which rules and regulations to keep and which ones to drop, even during a transition period.

Vince and Catherine EU panel (Beatrice Bass)

Beatrice and Jo at Bournemouth conference (Beatrice Bass)

Jo Swinson and Vince Cable both promote the Lib Dem policy for another referendum on the facts of Brexit which enables the British people an Exit for Brexit. Seeing as this policy did not bite in the June election, I wonder how effective it will be in the weeks and months to come, especially with the European exit-clock ticking.

I approach Jo Swinson at the end of the debate and ask her opinion on the likelihood of another general election before March 2019. She candidly admits that she feels quite pessimistic and doesn't expect an election next year, and she also fears that the chances to stop Brexit are rather low at the moment and completely contingent on a major public mood swing. I express my frustration that MPs voted in favour of the EU withdrawal bill and the committee bill earlier this week. Surprisingly, Jo defends some of her more liberal Tory colleagues; no MP will vote against the party line unless they know for sure that they will make a difference. I recognise that Parliamentary motivations and strategies clearly differ from public expectations and perceptions, but I would have hoped for more bravery in a shaky minority government.

The good thing about having a dozen Brighton & Hove members at the Conference is that each of us can attend different training sessions and then share our newly gained knowledge with the others. I am attending a training session on how to build a target seat - ready to conquer Brighton & Hove.

Another highlight of the day is the members' rally where Vince Cable tells an upbeat audience some anecdotes from his political life. It shows the unpredictability of politics - not too long ago Vince spent his garden leave or exile writing books, dancing and not needing to worry about politics, next thing he finds himself in the middle of British politics as the leader of the party. The entire conference then gives a big cheer for George Osborne's son who helped Vince during the election campaign. I bet the former Chancellor of the Exchequer did not expect his family to ever gain this much appreciation at a Lib Dem rally!

B&H Lib Dems at conference (Beatrice Bass)

Beatrice Elizabeth Hilary and Laura at Bournemouth conf (Beatrice Bass) Vince and Beatrice (Beatrice Bass)

After another fringe event on adult education with Vince Cable, Layla Moran and Chris Fox it is high time for the legendary Lib Dem Disco. The Lib Dems are the only party where senior party members compete against each other with short DJ sets to a packed room and enthusiastic dance offs. I ask former Tory candidate Azi Ahmed if the Conservative Conference bears any similarities: "No way. It's nothing like that - they are all too self-conscious." Hero of the dance floor is no doubt Tim Farron who is on fire. He loves jangly guitar music and is thrilled to realise that I used to play bass for The Wedding Present. Luckily, the DJs know better than to play obscure indie tunes and we rock out to more accessible hits. Tim Farron clearly has a feel for rhythm - I spot a potential for Strictly!