Sunday, October 29, 2006


Conferencing in Blackburn

Yesterday was the Liberal Democrats North West Region Autumn Conference. It was the first time I had attended a conference (my holidays always seem to clash with them, as if I purposely avoid them…), and had little idea what to expect. My only ideas came from snatched glances of the Democratic Convention from “The West Wing.”

Sadly yesterday was somewhat less of a grand affair than that, taking place as it did at a function room in Blackburn. Still, it was a fun and educational day.

I gave a lift to our Prospective Parliamentary Candidate and Holyrood Councillor Vic D’Albert. I think it is testament not only to my composure, but also to the rigour with which Fiat build their Puntos that, despite having the such a dignitary in my car, I didn’t hurtle through the central reservation on the M65 at any point...

Arriving in Blackburn, I was enchanted to discover that my name “wasn’t on the list.” It brought memories of many a Saturday night out in Manchester flooding depressingly back. The bouncers on the door here were a little less intimidating though. I reminded them that their reluctance to let me in contrasted markedly with the speed in which they cashed my cheque, and the situation was soon resolved.

I attended a couple of morning training sessions. One was on “Page Plus,” the Desk Top Publishing software which we use to produce “Focus.” I have just installed the copy that was purchased for me by Bury Lib Dems, so if the next Focus is slightly less professional-looking than normal, it’s because I’m doing it! The second session was on campaigning techniques, looking specifically at our recent Council by-election win in Warrington. Before our lovely lunch, I met our MEPs, Sajjad Karim and Chris Davies, and we were photographed together in support of Fair Trade products. So look out for the picture in Focus! It was a pleasure to meet both Saj and Chris (both of whom I believe are fellow bloggers, Saj certainly), and both showed a keen interest in St Mary’s. They were interested in the campaigns here, such as Save our Schools and the Retreat, and are keen to lend their support to them. It would be great to have them helping out in Prestwich with as much vigour as they work in Brussels! I reminded Saj of the piule of leaflets that exists unmoveable in Vic's kitchen, so he may come to regret his eagerness to volunteer...

The afternoon was spent with Chris Davies in a session talking about green issues, and listening to the keynote speaker Andrew Stunell MP, who is the Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary. I was hoping his speech would be an hour long diatribe on the technicalities of local government performance, but I suspect he sensed that whilst I would be delighted, the other 300 people in the audience would probably pelt him with the remnants of their lunch. In reality the speech was an effective reminder of how the policies which we have championed over the years are now becoming main stream (for instance the Environment), and how we should keep up the pressure now.

My final session was to be on “speaking to young people,” which is a particular interest of mine. Sadly it was cancelled, but I id get the chance to speak to a couple of Lib Dem Councillors from the area, including Cllr Trafford from Manchester City Council, one of the younger Members of that body.

I stuck round to hear the Parliamentary reports from Saj Karim and John Leech MP (who I last met in Andrew and Ann Garner’s living room in Prestwich during the last Prestwich Focus Action Day). It was a good job the local contingent stuck to it too, as we picked up two prizes in the end of day raffle, including some House of Commons Scotch… If I don’t see the rest of them for a few days now, they may well be hungover having drunk it!

So, that was my day at conference. I wasn’t disappointed, and I’m told that the National Spring Conference in Harrogate is a much grander affair. Frankly I was happy enough with today, but I’m not one to say “no” to a treat, so bring it on! And of course, any local people (or anyone at all), interested in joining us – getting the chance to debate the issues, meet like-minded people, meet MPs and MEPs, get your face known, and have a nice lunch – please just let me know or fill in this form!


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