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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 September, 2004, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Lib Dem conference diary
Gez Smith
Gez Smith: He parties so you don't have to
All eyes are on the big party names at the Liberal Democrat conference, but hundreds of delegates are enjoying a conference party of a very different sort.

Here is Lib Dem youth and student member Gez Smith's conference diary.

Wednesday 23 September

Started the day with a fringe meeting on international democracy and young people.

We tend to think that the numbers of old people are growing and growing, but in many countries the majority of people are now under 25, and if they don't engage in democracy, there are real risks for peace and stability.

Went from there to lunch with friends and a wander round Bournemouth.

Getting back to the conference hall we were accosted by a cameraman and reporter with a microphone asking what we thought tough liberalism was.

One of us gave his view, but the rest of us were too busy with other matters to get involved.

Never been professionally lobbied before, interesting experience, but nuclear is not where I think we should be heading.

It's the second time I've turned down a TV interview at conference now, they always seem to pop up at the most inconvenient moments.

In the evening had an invite to an Electoral Reform Society whisky reception.

Heard a short speech on the prospects for proportional representation in British elections, slowly moving forward in Scotland and recommended for Wales at the moment.

Good news for democracy and casting a meaningful vote to my mind, but apparently some are still vehemently opposed to it.

From there I experienced the most random event of conference, in that I and others were taken out for a sizeable dinner by some Nuclear Industry lobbyists.

Never been professionally lobbied before, interesting experience, but nuclear is still very firmly not where I think we should be heading.

Still, free food not to be sniffed at.

Dashed from the dinner to the Glee Club, an annual event where everyone crowds into a hall and sings along to well known songs, only with the lyrics changed to cover such topics as focus leaflets, knocking on doors and party policy.

Everyone seemed to be loving it, but not my scene really, so loitered in the bar for one last time. Quite sad to be leaving conference, it's been the best one I've ever attended, and not going to be seeing a lot of these people again until spring next year.

Still, can always chat with them online, and if you've enjoyed reading my thoughts on the last week, then drop by the LDYS forums (link on the right there) I'd be pleased to say hello!

Tuesday 22 September

A gentle start to the day again, watching the debate on the education policy paper.

All detailed and sensible measures to my mind, but with a lively debate on some points, especially choice vs. quality.

Pleasingly an amendment stressing choice over quality was roundly defeated.

Played dodge the flyer on the way out of the centre. People don't just lobby you with food and wine at conference, as you go in or out of the conference centre you have to negotiate hoards of people handing out leaflets, on everything from economics to the repression of Falun Gong.

This year's most persistent such lobbyist has to be the 'ban tobacco' guy. One man, on his own, with a handmade placard, ranting about the need to criminalise tobacco.

The Orange Book came in for a lot of stick throughout, which seemed to go down well

Obviously a great idea, as banning cannabis has been such a stunning success in preventing people using it over the last 30 years, or then again...

Took a break in the afternoon to watch some conference coverage on the television, to see what it looks like for you all out there.

Mild reality check, we're still attracting the same nonsense criticisms we always get, but as an American fighter pilot once said, you know you're right over the target when the flak is heaviest.

Then went onto a fringe for the national e democracy project, discussing ways to get people engaged with the political process using new technologies like text messaging and the internet.

Why are journalists always so interested in the bar?

Interesting for me since we at the Lib Dem Youth and Students have the only party political open discussion forums on the web right now, and it seems like people do like getting involved politically online.

The evening saw this year's Lib Dem revue show, which was hilarious as ever. The Orange Book came in for a lot of stick throughout, which seemed to go down well.

A skit on the Butler report was brilliant too, with Lord Butler reporting on the Liberal Democrats, focus leaflets as weapons of mass destruction and regime change in Brent East and Leicester South.

Headed to the bar later, and with elections about to open to be on the party's list for the House of Lords, helped friends collect the 25 signatures needed to stand.

Ended up being interviewed live on radio too, asked what the social side of conference was really like. Why are journalists always so interested in the bar?

Monday 21 September

Started the day late after the night before, but made it into the conference hall for Menzies Campbell speaking on foreign policy.

He reflected what we were all feeling on the issues, and expressed a genuine anger at the way we were all misled over Iraq.

The room was packed and the atmosphere was electric
However, it was what I went to next that made me even more angry, a fringe on young offenders by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Youth offending is an issue close to my heart, and some of the facts and figures they gave on the current practice of locking young offenders together with no attempt to re-train and educate them left me really sickened.

Some of these children have been horribly abused, have mental health problems and all we do is lock them up with other offenders in a 'university of crime'.

Reconviction rates are more than 80%, vastly higher than for offenders made to undertake education and do work to payback the community for their crimes. We can't go on like this.

Went on to an education quiz, to test how much we all knew about the finer points of education policy. Hardest quiz I've ever done, but managed to score close to Phil Willis's team, so not a dreadful performance.
The rumours are true, Lembit Opik does actually carry a harmonica at all times

Conference can be expensive at times, but money can be saved by scouring the conference agenda for fringe events offering free food and wine. Last night's tea was courtesy of BBC Sport, who wanted to let us know all about what they do. Never been much of a sportsman, but good food and good company never goes amiss.

After that though was the fringe event of the conference.

Sponsored by the Economist, we had David Laws, Mark Oaten, Evan Harris and Ed Davey debating whether the Lib Dems need more discipline and less diversity.

After the storm caused among the party faithful by Laws' comments on the NHS recently, the room was packed and the atmosphere was electric.

All parties spoke well, but the side of diversity to my mind came out on top, and I was more impressed by Mark Oaten than I have been previously as well.

Sitting in the bar afterwards, I got a tip off that the Bloomberg sponsored, invite only reception might be worth a bash.

I had no invite, but for every front door there is always a back, and within minutes I was drinking complementary green apple Martinis and eating bizarre ice cream on crackers.

Met a few more MPs; Evan Harris seemed to be happy with the way the evening had gone, Simon Hughes pleased to be party president, and discovered that the rumours are true, Lembit Opik does actually carry a harmonica at all times, perhaps to ward off asteroids. After a rousing rendition of, well, a harmonica, I called it a night.


Sunday 19 September

Spent Sunday morning getting my bearings, checking out the exhibition stands and Bournemouth itself.

Went to a New Politics Network fringe debate on state funding of political parties, which impressed on me the very good point that political apathy is not just low voter turnout, it's also lower party memberships and, as a result, fewer candidates standing in elections.

For all the debate on the merits on choice, for me the most important thing to ensure is that people have a choice of candidates.

All too often, for all parties, this is not the case.

Spent Sunday night with friends in the bars and lounges of the conference hotel.

One of the great things about conference is that MPs and party bigwigs mix freely with general party members, and are all very approachable.

I approached a fair few, helping friends raise funds for the Youth and Student NUS campaign.

Generosity definitely increased as the evening drew on.


Saturday 18 September

Well, here I am in Bournemouth!

Got down here Saturday afternoon and immediately bumped into loads of people I hadn't seen since last year, one of my favourite aspects of conference.

Checked in to my hotel and grabbed some food before heading to the Lib Dem Youth and Student 'Race night'.

It's always the first event of conference and the most enjoyable too.

Met up with my friend Ben there, who's just launched a new magazine called 'The Liberal'.

Seems like a very worthy project, must see if I can't get something published in it.

Managed to escape for a reasonably early night - probably my last chance for a while if I know conference.





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