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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Is Liberal Democrats Conference a turning point?

I was talking to a journalist yesterday who told me that he always enjoys Liberal Democrats Conference because we are so optimistic. It comes with the territory, it really does and yet there is a lot to be optimistic about.

I don't mean the polls of course. It seems that we are still becalmed in the 9% to 10% territory. I have never seen so few journalists at a Liberal Democrats Conference, with the BBC virtually absent altogether, apparently because of budget cutbacks in their political and current affairs departments. And of course we are still light on Parliamentarians, apart from members of the House of Lords, who seem to be lurking in every nook and cranny of the Brighton Centre.

And yet, partly because we have opened up Conferences to all members, we have one of the biggest gatherings ever, and what is more, for the first time since I have been coming to these events over 40 years ago, attendees are much closer to representing the make-up of the general population (well those who voted remain anyway) both in age-range and ethnicity.

The quality of the contributions to debates has been as high as ever, whilst the policy papers and motions are, by and large, distinctive and well-researched. So far, so normal.

Timing is everything and this Conference is taking place at a potential turning point for the Liberal Democrats and the country. Whatever, one thinks of Vince Cable's proposed reforms (some are sensible, some less so) they have generated interest in the party amongst the chattering classes, with a large number of people already signed up as supporters. That does not make us the movement Vince wants but it is a good start.

More importantly, the presence of some significant anti-Brexit campaigners such as Gina Miller, has underlined the party's status as a rallying point for pro-Europeans and as major focus for those wishing to resist the disastrous consequences of us leaving the EU.

With just over 190 days to go until we depart the EU for ever, the campaign for a people's vote (Gina Miller apparently does not like the phrase, and nor do I) has started to really gather momentum. However, whilst the Conservatives remain irrevocably split and Labour continues to sit on the fence, giving succour to Theresa May, it is left to the Liberal Democrats to lead the way.

The party is still struggling to articulate a vision for either a post or no-Brexit UK and that matters a lot. But in many ways that is not a concern for now. Our leadership role in opposing Brexit could prove to be crucial in creating a space whereby we will be heard on other issues. Stepping up the pace in campaigning against Brexit will have wider benefits for the party of Lloyd George and Gladstone.

This though, is a high risk strategy. It may all end in tears, specifically a General Election rather than a referendum, in which the Liberal Democrats will struggle to be heard. The scenario in which Theresa May resists taking her deal to the people and is instead voted down by Parliament is a very likely one. She has said already that the choice for MPs will be what she negotiates or no deal at all. Is that a bluff? Who knows? She is playing a high stakes game with the country's and her own future. So are we.

The Liberal Democrats have jumped head-first into an all or nothing scenario. If the gamble pays off then they may reap huge rewards. If it falls short then who knows what will happen?
You start optomistically. and end in uncertainty. I looked at both BBC and Sky news sights on the net no coverage We are being ignored.You also say very few journo,s were there.We only have our leaflets to spread our message on policies etc.
The coalition did not serve us well,we lost the trust of the voter.
Yes we are playing for high stakes where the countries future is at stake.
We are a voice in the wilderness crying out to be heard.
Our members and associates can form the bedrock of a new dawn for us putting down roots for growth. Where we are weak we need to put effort to grow. Where we are strong we must consolidate. Above all we must inform the voter of our policies on housing business health etc and get the trust .back
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