Tuesday, November 20, 2007

London Region: ‘twas a cold, dark, and above all, wet afternoon…

Sunday saw the London Region Conference and AGM come to South London, or to be more precise, Streatham. Sundays are never good days to hold conferences, and with a venue that seemed to become more difficult to get to by the day (the local station was closed for engineering works, and the nearest tube station was closed for similar reasons), turnout was down on what we might normally expect.

This was something of a pity really, as the agenda was quite a good one, with speeches from our new Mayoral candidate, Brian Paddick, our acting Leader, Vince Cable, and our Spokesperson on Communities and Local Government in the Lords, Baroness Ros Scott, plus a contested election for Chair. We’d arranged some excellent training opportunities and, all in all, a good time could have been had by all.

The weather didn’t help, with the rain lashing down as the afternoon progressed, and the hall never really warmed up, which at least enabled the host Local Party to make some money through sales of tea and coffee. On the other hand, the sight of our die-hard smokers huddling outside for warmth might have improved the Government’s chances of reducing smoking in the general population.

For the most part, things went fairly smoothly, although Alison Sanderson, our outgoing Regional Conference Chair, wore her usual worried look as the prospect of emerging chaos was glimpsed from time to time before being fended off. I increasingly suspect that the only thing keeping her going was the prospect of passing her poisoned chalice to your correspondent as of 31 December…

The one hitch was the late arrival of Vince Cable, who had bravely opted to drive himself across South London, and had got lost doing so. However, he more than made up for it with a speech addressing the issues surrounding Northern Rock and the general vulnerability of the British economy, leavened with a surprising element of humour. He really seems to be enjoying his stint as acting Leader, and I’ve been impressed with the vigour with which he has attacked the Government (Nick and Chris, I trust that you’re taking notes…). He got a warm reception from a suddenly bolstered audience, before handing over to Brian Paddick, who gave a polished performance.

I had my doubts about him as a potential Mayoral candidate, as I generally distrust the cult of celebrity, but he does appear to be not only a Liberal Democrat, but has some edge too. There is a risk that in a contest between Mayor Ken and Bonker Boris, issues will become very much sublimated to the questions of style and celebrity. If Brian is going to make a series of hard-hitting interventions on crime and policing, and can demonstrate a grasp of the other core issues, he may well make an impression on the contest far greater than that predicted when his name first emerged as a potential candidate.

And so, in the safe hands of our new President, Baroness Sally Hamwee, Conference came to an end and we all went home. Colder, and probably wetter than we might have wished, but with a sense of a Party moving forward. And you probably can’t ask for much more than that…

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