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Monday, October 19, 2009

Bits and pieces

It has been a very busy week, not helped by losing a day on Thursday due to travelling to London for a very sad funeral. I had intended to blog more on Conference but was taken ill on Saturday night and as a result lost Sunday as well, so I was limited as to what I could do.

Today was equally as busy, with meetings all day and most of the evening. As it is I am now engaging in displacement activity to avoid getting on with re-writing a speech I need to deliver tomorrow night. So this is just a quick summary of some of the highlights of the Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference.

By far the most significant debate was that on free prescriptions. It was a real debate with genuine views on both sides and even the vote on the amendment at the end was close. It is not the sort of debate that happens that often in the other party's conferences.

What is important is to acknowledge that things change, and as a result parties have to adapt. The Welsh Liberal Democrats would not have gone down the route of free prescriptions. Instead we would have extended the list of long term illnesses that are exempt from such charges.

This formed the basis of Kirsty Williams' private members legislation in 2003. The cost would have been about £20 million. So, assuming that this would be the position we might go to the savings that might be made by abolishing free prescriptions would have been severely limited.

I doubt also whether any government, even a Tory one, would restore prescription charges at the English level, again eating into the savings. And of course there would be the cost of putting back the expensive means-testing apparatus that was there before.

Essentially, therefore getting rid of free prescriptions would have been a complex business that would not have brought the savings in the Welsh budget that others anticipate. And that judgement is before we begin to consider the health benefits lost and the problems of removing a benefit from people, even millionaires (some of whom would get free prescriptions under any regime due to long term illness).

No party can survive in 2009 on policies written in 2003. The decision on Saturday was not a u-turn or even a change of mind, it was adopting a policy fit for the present circumstances.

The other highlight for me was Kirsty's speech, which was outstanding. I believe that a video will be available on Freedom Central soon so that you can all enjoy it. Kirsty set out her vision for the Welsh Liberal Democrats and set the tone for the General Election ahead.

Of course none of us were expecting the Wales on Sunday front page regarding Lembit's column in the Daily Sport (don't worry the link is safe) the next day, but although I disagree with her on the significance of Lembit's 'weekly contribution to political debate', Kirsty is entitled to express her view and Lembit himself was relaxed about it.

The party is in good heart and we genuinely feel that we can hold our existing four seats and add to them whenever it is that Gordon Brown goes to the country. The Conference was an important stepping stone towards that aim, though we have also started to put in place key policy planks for the Assembly elections the year after such as the motion on funding personal care that was also passed on Saturday.
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