Liberal Democrat Conference Overview
As the Liberal Democrat Party Conference gathers in Birmingham in the second week of September we will do so under the banner “In Government, on your side”.
It is our second trip to Birmingham, and follows a very successful spring conference in the city in 2010. That meeting took place just weeks before the general election and while the party debated conference motions, an army of removal men took over our Westminster headquarters to get it ready for the coming campaign.
Since that conference a lot has changed.
Most importantly, when our delegates come together this autumn, they will be setting policy not for opposition but for Government.
It is no understatement to say this has profound consequences. At our last conference, for example, delegates voted to make sweeping changes to the legislation reforming the NHS that was progressing through Parliament.
Nick Clegg and other Liberal Democrat parliamentarians were able to take this mandate back to Westminster and ensure significant changes were made to NHS reforms that were finally approved by Parliament. A classic example of how we are able to exert our influence to allay fears over reforms and deliver a better result for the country.
If anything demonstrates that we as a party are both in Government and on your side, it is that.
This weight of responsibility hangs heavily upon us. But then again, it always has. We as a party believe in the flourishing of the individual and in challenging concentrations of power – and as would be expected – in championing democracy.
This is why conference remains such an important event for us. It is this which separates us from the other two parties, and keeps us grounded. Our members vote for the policies our parliamentarians seek to implement.
And, now we are in coalition, we have been very successful in implementing that agenda. The BBC estimates that we Liberal Democrats are implementing 75% of our 2010 general election manifesto commitments while the Tories are only managing to convert 60% of their promises into policy.
We strongly stand up for Liberal Democrat principles every day in public and behind the scenes, upholding the values that our supporters hold so dear.
Our autumn party conference is our opportunity to show to the wider world how we are standing up for liberal values in government. It is a highlight in all of our calendars and we work hard to make it work well.
Preparation started in May, with various committees coming together to decide on the general theme of the conference, inviting submissions for motions and speeches, and voting on which to allot time to.
Every Minister applied to give a speech but slots are limited. One of our Ministers has put in for a speech every year for the last 15 and this is the first time he’s made it into the programme. We’re all looking forward to hearing what he has to say.
We received a huge number of motions from our local parties and federal committees and will be debating a wide range of issues that range from social policy, to economics and international relations.
Ministers will make themselves as available as possible, and very much encourage delegates to come to them with issues and – I am sure – much advice as they travel round the event.
There will be new party policy created; headline-grabbing announcements made – and hopefully no mischief for the press to report on (though undoubtedly they’ll find something).
The Birmingham bars and restaurants will do a roaring trade, and local MP John Hemming will grace the conference fringe with another star turn at the piano.
We will then pass the baton onto the Labour Party, second on the political conference stage this year; seasoned-conference goers will see a noticeable difference. Where our delegates get to debate real policy, theirs will have to made do with a blank piece of paper. And whereas our delegates know they make a real difference to the direction of the country, Labour supporters are very much aware that they won’t.
In Government, on your side – or in the wilderness, out of touch. I know where I’d prefer to be.