Friday, 14 September 2007

Hurray for conference

As a demonstration of political commitment and party democracy, conference is hard to beat.

After I came back from conference last year, I was asked to report for my local paper on what I had seen. I was unsure what to write beyond bland descriptions of what members from my local party had been up to. I was unsure how to get across what it is like to be at conference (while plugging the party.) My solution was to write about why I thought it was worthwhile:

If you had gone down to Brighton last week, you would have been greeted with a surprise: six thousand Liberal Democrats descending on the city for their autumn conference. This year’s conference has been the best attended and most eventful of recent years with many questions about the party’s policies, direction and leadership being resolved. From Charles Kennedy’s return to conference to Menzies Campbell’s triumphant leader’s speech via a defining debate on tax, the conference has not been dull. Next to these important pieces of high politics, the fact that this was my first conference seems rather small but I still hope that my experiences and impressions are informative.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the whole event is just, how democratic the whole it is. The most obvious sign of this is that party policy is decided not by the leadership, as is the case with Labour and the Conservatives, but by party members voting at conference. This gives members a real sense that their views matter and injects a dose of drama into debates, which would otherwise become dull and unimportant.

The other quality that comes across very clearly is the depth of political commitment amongst those attending conference. In a country where more people regularly go the opera than take part in party politics it is unusual to find thousands of people in one place, who are willing to give up a week of their lives to help make political parties, an essential element of our democracy, work. These people are not as all too many people would let you believe, motivated by ambition, greed or any of the other unsavoury traits often associated with politics, but by a sincere desire to improve life in their communities. For this reason conference is a great antidote to the cynicism and apathy that is too often allowed to corrode our political system.

I would stand by that still. Nothing makes me as cross as the claim that people are only in politics for what they can get out of it. People do not go around delivering leaflets in the cold and wet because they are power crazed lunatics but because they believe in something. Individual members can make Change things for the better and a party conference is one of the best places to do it.

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