And so I threw myself into a heady social whirl that is Federal Conference. There I was, minding my own business, when Francesca Marritt, from the Campaign for Gender Balance, told me that there were in fact two amendments to my motion. It might have been nice if someone had told me... Francesca was behind one of them, on monitoring, and I had no fundamental objection to a voluntary, opt-in scheme, so that was alright. On the other hand, the amendment from Simon Hughes looked like a ploy to delay matters, or worse, screw the Campaign for Gender Balance. What to do? And besides, who was moving the motion?
The answer was not long in coming. "You're doing it, Mark.", said Flick, our Regional Administrator and eminence grise. "Really?", I replied, slightly confused. "Yes, really." "Fine, I'd better write a speech then...".
So I retreated to my lonely garret on the third floor and wrote a speech. It didn't take that long, as the arguments have been running on continuous loop in the back of my mind for months. And then back to the bar for a little refreshment. Alright then, quite a lot of refreshment (it is conference, after all). Chris Rennard assured me that there was no hidden agenda behind Simon's amendment and I took his word as a gentleman (he is a baron, after all...).
A reasonable amount of sleep later (five hours is very reasonable for a Federal Conference), I got up and prepared for my first ever meeting of English Candidates Committee. To most observers, these meetings would seem astonishingly dull (and parts of this one were a bit, I must admit) but the subject matter and the implications are huge. It would probably have helped had I brought the papers issued to me two weeks earlier but I've been a bit preoccupied of late.
At 10.45, I sneaked out to head to the auditorium, arriving in time to hear Vince Cable describe my employers as being in chaos. Alright, I'm not wildly impressed with the way HM Revenue and Customs is run, but things really aren't that bad. I've got some nice filing in our Twickenham office that he might be able to help with...
And so, a little behind schedule, my moment in the spotlight arrived. I walked onto the platform, stood behind the podium, feeling not a little lonely and isolated, and gave my speech. It was an odd sensation, and I had the impression of being oblivious to all of the usual sensory cues, but I said all of the things that I wanted to say, didn't stumble over the words too often, and got some applause at the end. I even managed to air my concerns over both amendments.
The other speeches came and went, for and against a summit meeting, mostly in favour of monitoring and, after the summation from Navnit Dholakia, who formally accepted both amendments, the motion was overwhelmingly passed. I hurried back to English Candidates Committee, just in time to be appointed to a Working Group, set up to review the guidance notes for Returning Officers. I then reported back to the meeting as to what had happened.
So my motion has passed. A concrete commitment to do something has been wrung from the powers that be and we will have to see what emerges from the review that has been promised. It isn't a victory, far from it, but we might actually have taken the first small step towards changing the public face of our Party. I would be kind of proud if that turned out to be the case...