Sunday, 9 March 2014

Impressions of York 2014

To borrow a joke from Tim Farron, a settlement which survived the Romans (and, according to Andrew Duff, was where Constantine, the first Christian emperor, was proclaimed) and the Vikings easily coped with an influx of Liberal Democrats. 

Even the weather in York was welcoming. Admittedly, it was a bit chilly at the start of the weekend and overcast on Saturday morning, but the weekend ended on a gloriously warm note. The police and security people were friendly though thorough, with none of the heavy-handedness which marred the Sheffield and, I understand, a number of later conferences.

As befits a once-Roman city, geese were much in evidence, and not just on
the rivers. Whether they act as alarms any more was not clear.

It's a young city. If you didn't know it had a large student population from the number of pubs and late-night convenience stores, the street scene on a Friday or Saturday evening would leave no doubt. There was student input to the conference debate on European Union membership, younger people particularly relishing the opportunities for travel and work abroad.

The good nature extended to the rest of Conference. The “top table” had its way on almost everything: the only vote which went against the Federal committees was a Liberal reassertion of fair votes for all elections. The official motion entitled “Power to the People” had included a proposal for open lists for European Parliament elections – better than the closed party lists which we suffer in the UK at present, but still a compromise too far.

More disappointing was the muted response to the slow progress in bringing fairness to the housing benefit restrictions. Don Foster, for the parliamentary party, announced at a Q&A session that IPSOS-MORI had begun research into the effects of the additional-rooms cut. Why an opinion research organisation was chosen for the task and why Linda Jack (or any other member of the Social Liberal Forum) did not press on this remain mysteries to me.

There was no time to fulfil my hope of visiting at least one of the historic museums, not even the Railway Museum, but at least I enjoyed the ambience of the narrow streets on their ancient pattern – and of course the warmth of the natives.

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