Sunday, 8 March 2009

My day in Harrogate...

. I lost my conference virginity to the Liberal Democrats yesterday (excluding leftie conferences I have attended) and, I have to say, it was a pretty painless experience and even more than a little pleasurable. I missed most of the morning though I am told Howard Dean's speech was quite amazing. I know for a fact that Vince Cable's was and he fully deserved his standing ovation.

Rewinding a little a few minor quibbles; I was less than impressed that I couldn't vote due to me being able to afford one day of the weekend and despite me actually being a delegated voting representative. I guess this is to encourage people to stay the whole weekend but it scarcely seems fair that people should be penalised in this way when there is plenty of reasons for only being able to attend one day. Similarly, charging £5 for a brochure is well just plain excessive and wrong (again this was down to me only being there for one day). Fortunately, I didn't have to pay but frankly I shouldn't have too (this time being financially punished for only one days attendance) and neither should anybody else when you are already paying a registration fee. Still, if i had been enfranchised as I should have then I probably would not be so sore about the brochure. Also, I would like to go on record as saying it is a total disgrace that those who work for the party are denied a vote.

We are rightly proud of the our status as a party where policy is democratically formed and therefore owned by all parts of the party but that in no way means we should be smug and self-satisfied and assume we have everything perfectly formed. I think it falls to our new President to look into these issues and I think our constitution should be amended accordingly. Regarding conference it has to be borne in mind that democratically and fiscally punishing people for only attending one day is not going to encourage maximum participation and therefore is a bad thing; something that needs to be addressed in the future.

Right; ranting over (well, at least until we get to faith schools). Vince Cables speech was grand and, rather interestingly, made specific mention of the 1909 People's Budget. Thematically it focused on attacking Labour for timidity; he rightly said that the banks should have been nationalised and lampooned a supposedly 'socialist' Labour for being unwilling to do this; the Tories, he said, simply had no worthwhile ideas to deal with the crisis. He ended by calling on the Liberal Democrats to take-up the mantle of being the truly progressive party; all of which, as you can imagine thrilled me.

I then attended a training session which meant i missed a goodly amount of the debate on the education policy paper, 'Equality and Excellence'. Unsurprisingly, the debate was heavily dominated by the section on faith schools. As a compromise this proposed that our policy on faith schools would be to create no new ones and gradually phase faith-based selection within the state sector out over five years. Three amendments (with the last one sub-divided) were put with the first one seeking to make faith schooling a matter of individual conscience (leaving us with no national policy); end faith-based selection immediately or in the case of the third one allow faith-schooling to continue but requiring them to prove their 'inclusiveness' or else face possible closure by local authorities. The second section of the third amendment would have allowed faith schools to actually make appointments based on a teachers religious views.

Only the first part of the third amendment was passed which, to put it mildly, leaves our policy a complete and utter shambles. Faith based selection continues subject to the fulfilling of vague criteria (which raise the rather horrific prospect of faith-based quotas) which, if they fail to meet, they will then be subjected to arbitrary closure. As I said later there is no doubt in mind that this policy will be challenged and any substantive debate on education will once again be overshadowed by the faith school issue. Having watched the debate I am starting to tend towards the gist of the first amendment purely from the terms of practical politics because this debate will always inflame passions and frankly, neither side will ever be satisfied.

My final stop before resting in the bar was the Social Liberal Forum fringe which I am very happy to report was well-attended indeed. It was strictly standing room only and the panel which included the likes of Steve Webb and Alison Goldsworthy spoke enthusiastically about putting the passion back into our party and into social liberalism. So, all-in-all a good day....can't wait for Bournemouth in the Autumn.....

5 comments:

asquith said...

Did you meet any bloggers? :)

Darrell G said...

I saw James at the SLF fringe...didnt get chance to chat and saw Susan G who I did chat too and I think slightly offend with my grouses about conference and the arrangements lol...other than that no....did meet a few people though :)....I enjoyed the day but was ticked about the faith schools vote as can be imagined...

asquith said...

Yes, I'm trying to ignore that faith schools debacle & persuade myself that the whole issue doesn't exist. To do otherwise would drive me over the edge :)

I'd quite like to go to conferences myself. Yours especially, but other parties too, & shite like the Convention on Modern Liberty. But the libertarians would put me in the rage zone :)

Letters From A Tory said...

It always amuses me that the Lib Dems claim to be anti-discrimination and pro-opportunity for everyone, but still support faith schools. A spectacular and embarrassing contradiction.

Darrell G said...

Well quite Letters....cant really disagree there!