Monday, September 19, 2011

Caron at Conference: alarms, drugs, fizz and friends

I have mostly spent the last almost 27 hours wandering around Liberal Democrat Federal Conference awestruck, a bit like an enthusiastic puppy in a way. It's grown a bit in my 12 year absence.

The mood is more upbeat than I thought it would be. People are realistic but there's a sense of pride in what we are achieving in Government and the party's full of fight.

The highlights of my trip so far are:

Arriving in the hall to see the end of Tim Farron's speech. Full of spirit and fizz and froth and fun - but some hard headed arse kicking as well, instructing us to get back out on the doorsteps and practicing community politics.

The mood totally changed for the next item on the agenda. Ewan Hoyle from Glasgow has spent the last 2 years trying to get drugs policy debated at Conference. Way back in 1994, Paddy Ashdown famously stropped after we passed the decriminalisation of cannabis. Yesterday's motion asked us to stop putting drug users through the criminal justice system and go and do something a bit more useful instead. I have rarely been so proud of the party. It was one of the highest quality debates I'd ever been at. Ewan's thoughtful, calm, assured but compelling opening speech was followed by many more. A retired doctor gave a harrowing, painful account of losing his son to drugs and had many of us in tears. He received a standing ovation for the honest and moving way he shared the worst possible loss.

My first fringe meeting was jointly run by Amnesty and Action Aid and featured ex Afghan MP Sabrina Saqib describing some of the barriers women still face in Afghanistan. I will write more about this later but the headline figure is that when the military operations started in Afghanistan in 2001, there were 5000 girls in education. Now there are 2.4 million.

One of the best things about this Conference has been finally meeting people I've known only online, like Cllr Daisy Benson from Reading, Andy Hinton and of course Jennie Rigg. It's great to see that they are all as awesome in real life as online.

And therein lies a tale. At 10pm last night, I decided to go downstairs for just one drink. 5 hours and 2 glasses of wine and a lime and soda later, I finally crashed into bed. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to turn of my normal weekday alarm, which duly went off at 6:25 am. And I couldn't get back to sleep after that. So, I'm feeling a bit wrecked.

A sensible person would have made no plans for late this evening. I, however, seem to have left my common sense at home along with my hairbrush, a pen and the little back up charger for my iPhone.

My original plan was to go to the candidates' reception I've very kindly been invited to, drink a few glasses of free wine and go to bed. Instead, it'll be some free orange juice as I'm down to be part of the invited audience with Paxman on Newsnight tonight. They have probably invited more people than they need so I might end up going back for the wine, but it's an exciting opportunity.

I also spent part of this afternoon doing interviews with the BBC, both radio and on camera (a bit scary as I really do have a face for radio) for Newsdrive, Scotland at 10 and Newsnight Scotland. I felt a bit better on the radio one - more relaxed. I go a bit crazed and rabbit in headlights like when someone sticks a camera in my face, though.

I wasn't asked to keep this quiet, so I don't see why I can't tell you but the radio interview was recorded not by some high tech radio equipment, but on David Porter's iPhone. And it was done in a truck park.

Katy Gordon and I were on together and it was quite interesting to be taken backstage through a door that said "no delegates beyond this point" through a labyrinthine set of corridors. We were taken to a huge room where BBC people from all the various programmes were working away. A good insight.

One of the things we were asked about was Vince Cable's sombre speech on the economic outlook. It was difficult to hear that there are no magic solutions ahead. But Vince is right to tell us the reality. In Scotland we have Alex Salmond telling us that the cuts are all evil Westminster's fault and if only he had more powers and independence, everything in Scotland would be fluffy and rosy.

I also ran into Iain Dale, arch Tory Blogfather, who was wandering around with a microphone. He put it to me that Tories might be a bit upset, their feelings might be a little hurt (bless) at the trashing they were getting here. I replied that I was absolutely certain that there would be no comedy trashing of us at the Tory Conference and that Nadine Dorries would be treating us like a bunch of cuddly teddy bears. Aye, right.

What Iain Dale doesn't know is that I've seen his puppies. And, frankly, they don't come much more gorgeous. I have a major soft spot for Schnauzers...

Nick Clegg was on fine form on his Q & A session - announcing a funding package to educate a million girls in Africa and Asia by 2015.

And that brings us roughly up to date. I am having a ball here. I never want to miss another Conference. It's great fun.

See you all later.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:My cosy wee hotel room


Unknown said...

Yep, very similar to my feelings on conference - it's a wonderful experience. And I'm incredibly glad I finally got to meet you in person before I had to leave. Hopefully I won't have to wait another 12 years to see you at conference again :)

Jennie Rigg said...

"I never want to miss another Conference. It's great fun."



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