We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats

Lib Dem Conference Diary: Day 3, Lib Dems Fighting to Give Power to People

September 26, 2017 1:00 PM
By Beatrice Bass

When I reach the Highcliff Marriott Hotel, which hosts conference events, there is a massive queue that reaches all the way through the corridor and around the corner from my destination on this sunny morning. James Chapman seems to be a very popular guest at this Fringe event titled: "Can Britain's Relationship with Europe Be Saved?".

James Chapman at LD Conference 2017

As a well respected journalist and former government advisor, James has shaken up the media and politics scene with his call for a new moderate centrist party. The many Lib Dems queuing up will probably try to convince him that we are the party that he is looking for. In any event this promises to be an exciting panel discussion including other guest speakers Roger Liddle (a Labour member of the House of Lords), Sarah Ludford (a Lib Dem member of the House of Lords), Wera Hobhouse MP and Adam Payne (a reporter for Business Insider).

Wera Hobhouse rightly identifies Lib Dem optimism as one of our greatest strengths. She believes the mood on Brexit is changing and we should keep pushing for the second referendum. Meanwhile James Chapman doesn't try to hide the fact that he is still very angry about the first referendum result and opens boldly: "What we are fighting for is to stop the referendum result, overturn it, and stay in the European Union.". He also explains the important distinction between the now famous Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and its more obscure brother Article 127 of the EEA Agreement which are said to be not connected and would need to be treated separately in order to be effective - a notification to leave the EU under Article 50 does not automatically entail Britain's departure from the EEA. It follows that the government would need to trigger Article 127 by March 2018 in order to leave the EEA at the same time as the EU, as Article 127 requires a 12 month exit period. James also mentions how hard it is to get business people to speak up even though he doesn't know of a single FTSE 100 CEO who backs Brexit. I have always wondered why so many businesses seem to still back and fund a government whose increasingly protectionist ideologies go against the grain of modern economic thinking and business interests. I am pleased to see Hilary Ellis, who is one of our Brighton and Hove members, get up and speak about the negative impact of Brexit on the many small businesses that we have in our city. Inflation, lack of European staff and inflated business rates hit small businesses severely.

After such a thought-provoking debate it is time to get even more radical. Radix is hosting a discussion about how to revitalise the centre of British politics with Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson on the panel. It is remarkable how much Norman Lamb understands and emphasises with people across the country and their fears in modern society. He regrets the lack of radical liberal vision and that none of the parties in the election campaign actually addressed any of the big changes that we are facing in the coming years. Many people suffer from anxieties and powerlessness that we need to address. He urges for us to find ways to give power to people in their workplace and suggests that the Lib Dems should be campaigning under the watchword "fighting to give power to people". Norman Lamb also reflects on the fact that many people identify as liberals, but they don't all identify as Liberal Democrats.

Seeing as the Lib Dems have big plans on how to win the centre ground, the training session on how to stage a rally comes in handy. Whilst rushing from one event to the other I run into Tim Farron and, to my amusement, he tries to make sense of his memories of Lib Dem Disco the other night. "I did not dream that, did I? We were dancing and you used to be the bass player of The Wedding Present?" I assure him that he was not dreaming and that in fact he has an excellent memory. For some reason, Tim Farron and I seem to go to the same places at the same time, as I keep on running into him throughout the rest of the conference. So far, I have known him to be a passionate capable politician, now I also appreciate what a genuine, friendly, good humoured and approachable person he is.

Beatrice Bass with Tim Farron Picture of Bournemouth at LD Conf 2017

"I definitely won't go to Glee Club tonight" is what I keep saying to my Brighton friends throughout the day. However, I recommend all the first time conference attendees to go to this quirky evening event because they need this experience at least once in their lives. For some reason (unknown to humanity) Glee club has transformed from a low-key sing along in the pub to an actual conference fringe event. It now involves a big room packed with merry liberals singing custom made Lib Dem lyrics to popular (but terribly outdated) music. Why this event manages to attract so many people is beyond me. I also have zero explanation as to why, after insisting I will definitely not attend, I find myself in midst of the Brighton and Hove Lib Dems, Kelly-Marie Blundell (PPC for Lewes) and Julian Huppert (former MP for Cambridge) singing songs about the challenges of leafletting, Charles Kennedy and the coalition on the top of my lungs.