Monday, November 14, 2011

Why on earth was Willie Rennie talking about Justin Bieber?

When I went to East Lothian for the annual Liberal Democrat dinner on Friday night, I think it's fair to say that the last thing I expected to come up in Willie Rennie's speech was Justin Bieber. 

Bieber is a teen pop idol type who divides teenage girls into those who love him and those, like my daughter, who loathe him with the same sort of passion I reserve for Lewis Hamilton. 

How on earth did he find his way into Willie's speech?

Well, Willie doesn't just believe in turning up, eating, speaking and leaving when he goes to a dinner. If he can, he wants to spend some time with the local campaigners and councillors and do some visits around the area. On Friday afternoon, he'd been in Haddington and had been told that one of the local companies prints Justin Bieber's fan newsletter. It just goes to show how our businesses are contributing to the local economy.

It struck me, not for the first time, just how well he knows the party and its members. When he chaired the Nick Clegg meetings in the Summer, when he was picking people to ask questions, he called them all by name. Again, on Friday night, he singled out some members of the audience for special praise, and others just to tease. People warm to his friendly banter and respect his knowledgeable advice and they trust him enough to let him lead them into areas where they might not have been entirely comfortable. I'm thinking particularly of how he changed the party's position on minimum alcohol pricing. He did it with genuine respect of our conference - and had the courage to sum up the debate himself.  He took a risk because he believed so much in the cause. Conference could have voted against something he had personally associated himself with. 

The dinner itself was well attended. I'd been to a few at the same venue so I had been looking forward to it. The food at Craigielaw Golf Club is always delicious. I had smoked haddock and cheddar fishcakes with tartare sauce which were maybe slightly over-seasoned, but still robust, and then venison with bramble jus. I'd watched an episode of  Masterchef: The Professionals that afternoon where everyone had been cooking venison and the meal I was served matched up in terms of presentation.  My favourite course was the Belgian Chocolate torte, all voluptuous and rich, served with a beautifully sharp raspberry which counteracted the sweetness perfectly and a creamy vanilla ice cream.

I was driving, unfortunately, so I couldn't partake of the wine - although I enjoyed the apple and ginger welcome drink they were serving up. My only complaint was that the event was being held later in the year than usual so it was dark when we got there. The view from the clubhouse, across the Firth of Forth to Fife, is absolutely spectacular.

It's a long time since I've driven so far so late at night and it was a bit scary, Radio 4 kept me company, though.  I'm glad I went as it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and it was good to see lots of old friends.

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