Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why the hell were we all so happy? #ldconf

This year has not been an easy one for the Liberal Democrats. By any stretch of the imagination. With 800 councillors lost in England, a reduction by two thirds of our MSPs and the anger over tuition fees and ongoing concerns over NHS and welfare reforms being carried out in our name, you would expect there to have been an atmosphere somewhere between hand-wringing anxiety and brewing rage.

I really was amazed to find that this was far from the case. The week has been incredibly upbeat, almost bullish even.

Jeremy Paxman proved no match for a spirited and vibrant audience of Liberal Democrats on Monday night. He was trying to stir up trouble by getting us to choose whether we'd prefer to be in coalition with Labour or the Tories. We'd got wise to that sort of BBC trickery with many of us telling the Daily Politics to take their little yellow balls and go home - or at least give us another one that said neither.

We're in the business of making people's lives better by implementing Liberal Democrat policies. We recognise the reality that we have to do that working with other parties, but we don't lose sleep over which one. Both Labour and the Tories have things about them that turn the stomach of any Liberal Democrat - protecting the rich and powerful on one hand, and a deep and dangerous authoritarian streak on the other.

But, I digress. I seriously expected to find people doing a bit of at least metaphorical crying into their beer. Instead they were generally up for what they knew would be a hard slog over the next few years, and there was almost a sense of excitement about what we were managing to achieve in Government. That may be a sense that we have to do as much good as possible, while we have the chance.

I bumped into Susan Kramer, now a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords, at New Street station this morning and asked her why on earth we were so upbeat after such a difficult year. She said that it showed how resilient we were as a party. Neil Fawcett, author of A Liberal Dose added another dimension, telling me last night that "we're with family".

When times are hard, who is it that restores you to good humour, who hugs you when you want to cry, who reassures and counsels and thinks of your best interests? The mutually restorative benefits of long standing relationships and friendships are well documented. Colin Ross said when Andrew Reeves died that we were a family who does politics and he's right. And when it comes down to it, we stick by each other when times are hard. Even the embarrassing uncle - speaking of whom, Lembit was in fine form in the early hours at the Glee Club.

We all know what we're up against out there, and that hasn't been changed by this week, but we can all go home, inspired by ideas, buoyed up by laughter induced endorphins from the raucous Glee Club or from Tim Farron's jokes.

But it's not all some big fluffy back scratching bubble. There are some real world, practical steps forward that we can see and which give us cause for optimism.

Most of us are finding it more difficult than it used to be to get our message across over the past year. That's partly due to serious errors in internal communication. That's improving, though. We're also seeing evidence of our influence on Government policy which isn't just coming from the rather clunky party spin machine - but from people like the BBC, whose independent research found 75% of the Liberal Democrat manifesto being implemented. Not only are we holding the Tories back from doing their worst, but ideas like the Campaign for Body Confidence, which neither Tory or Labour would do alone, are going to make a real difference to people.

And it's not as if we haven't had a cross word. The press consistently fail to get that we can have a right old rammy as a party, but we'll leave the debating hall and still be friends afterwards. And people who were fighting like cats and dogs on one motion will be collaborating on another. Disagreement and diversity are celebrated, by most people anyway.

And some of our rosy glow may come from falling in love with a bit of tech. The new Connect campaigning software is literally so powerful and so brilliant that it kicks the backside of anything that's gone before it. Even if some of us might have have to sell half our worldly goods to afford it.

I think as well there was a sense of developing new ideas for the future. It's a happy consequence of devolution that when I heard Tim Farron outlining ideas to increase the supply of affordable housing the other day, I realised we'd done most of them in Scotland. We're developing new ideas in policy for the future in a changing environment and world.

So, there you have it. Five days of fellowship and fun with a feeling of a firm foundation being laid for the future. It was great to be back after 12 years and although my physical exhaustion will take a few days to sort out - 14 hours' sleep in 3 days is a bit crazy - I'm feeling revitalised, restored and recharged politically.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:still on this train heading home to my lovely family

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