Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Leaving Conference with an unexpected spring in my step

There is a danger that, once you’ve been to enough Federal Conferences, you tend to become a wee bit cynical about the whole thing. Policy motions where speakers compete to agree most ardently, big set piece speeches from senior figures designed to rally the troops in the face of adversity, that sort of thing. And yet, and yet...

It has, in the end, been a rather satisfying four days. I have been given an unexpected opportunity to be useful, done something I’m good at, made a speech and been rather inspired to do something new. Somebody might yet pay for that...

Conference felt slightly unfamiliar - upbeat, confident, keen to get at our competition. For those of us who suffered the slings and arrows of the Coalition years - being mostly right was only partial consolation for the decimation of our Councillor base - with the expectation of taking another kicking, the notion that we might go into an election cycle looking to make significant advances is slightly bewildering, albeit in a good way. The enthusiasm is... catching.

I enjoyed Vince Cable’s speech. Self-deprecating, funny yet serious in turn, he got a thoroughly well-deserved standing ovation. Was he a great Leader? I leave others, perhaps more neutral than I, to judge that. He was, however, a thinker, and in a political era when sound bites and reaction seem to outweigh ideas and contemplation, he stood out from the throng.

But for me, the revelation was Jo’s speech. The first speech as Leader sets a tone and an impression that can determine what comes thereafter, and whilst I expected a professional, well-crafted effort, I don’t think I quite expected the manner of its delivery.

There was confidence, which I did expect, there was passion, which I think we need, but there was also a hint of vulnerability, of a human being beneath the “screen image”. It felt relatable, as if the subjects mattered, as if she “got it”. It wasn’t the sort of speech that Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson could ever give.

I could sense a air of anticipation before we were allowed into the hall after lunch, and Conference wanted to like her even as she came onto the stage. And there was, as an old friend said afterwards, a vague sense of an evangelical meeting to it all - a Conference that believed and wanted to go out and deliver that message.

It is, I guess, alright to be a Liberal Democrat again, and it feels surprisingly good...

No comments: