As many of you know, I spent Friday to Wednesday in Brighton at the Liberal Democrat Conference. It was a great experience which I loved from beginning to end. My phone died on the way home which gave me ample opportunity to write notes which form the basis of this post.
I've eschewed too much structure and gone for a disjointed, ad-hoc approach to recording my thoughts. I've included some notes on Nick Clegg's key speech - but intend re-reading and/or re-watching before elaborating. It appears my initial opinion at odds with some of my colleagues in the party.
They tried to make me go to Glee Club...
...and indeed I went. When I first heard about glee club (via Twitter at previous conferences), I was deeply sceptical as to whether it would appeal. Even before I headed off to conference, though, I had put it in my diary - and I'm glad I did. It was immense fun although difficult to describe to the uninitiated. After a week of debates, fringe meetings and receptions it is a chance to let your hair down.
The alcohol flows and songs are sung: Liberal Anthems, National (and Regional) Anthems and all sorts of self-parodic songs are performed. We are not afraid to take the mick out of ourselves - which is a healthy trait when you have to put up with some of the stuff our party has to.
Whilst conference eating can play havoc with your body's processes, there are no shortage of motions being debated on the conference floor. Or maybe there were - depending on your interests. It was notable there were no motions on International matters or policy, for example.
But regardless, the ultimate purpose of conference is to make policy for the party - not to confirm or rubber-stamp policy but to make it.*
Any member can be a voting member (subject to election through their Local Party processes) and can then vote as the see fit on the floor of conference. Lib Dem conference attendees are Representatives, not Delegates.
The tone of debates is civilised with opposing opinions being respectfully heard and applauded - even when the mood of the floor is largely against. The debate I personally enjoyed most was on Medically Assisted Dying - an important issue on which I think it is important for their to be a truly Liberal voice. Conference voted to retain and strengthen our existing policy that Medically Assisted Dying should be provided for by the state.
Another key debate was on the Justice and Security Bill on which party activists voted against the leadership amendment and demonstrated a Liberal freedom of mind.
Lib Dems: Fiscally Responsible, Socially Responsible
This was my immediate summary of Nick Clegg's end of conference speech. He had started the speech by talking of the values of British people as illustrated over the Olympic and Paralympic games and also as evidenced following last summer's riots and identified with them as common to our values. Values which are required to see us through both the challenges facing the Government and the challenges facing the party.
It was, I thought, a positive speech: not defensive but affirmative. With the monkey which was the apology for the Tuition Fees debacle off hiss back, Clegg went back to basics on our Liberal values and the fundamental belief in freedom of opportunity which defines us as a party.
He contrasted us with both Labour and the Conservatives - decrying the Tory backsliding on green issues and insisted that Growth had to be Green Growth.
It was, as I said, positive and uplifting. True, it may not have been soaring oratory but it was measured, concise and focused; clear and delivered with feeling. It was refreshingly short on bluster and party-political pointscoring. It was about us - as a party and as a party of government.
As I said above, I am going to re-read the speech and write a fuller post - but these were my first reactions.
*but see tomorrow's Saturday Six for more nuanced background on this...