Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Conference trends

I have attended Liberal Democrat party conferences off and on for around twenty years. My dashes round the fringe meetings in the last two days, noting the general dearth of tit-bits, or even liquid refreshment, caused me to think about the changes in that period. Time was, even before the party hit the heights of its so-far maximum representation in Westminster let alone entered government, any self-respecting pressure group would have stocked its fringe meeting with a full buffet of which there would be enough left over to fill a doggy-bag or two. The present austerity probably set in around the time of the financial crash. There was certainly no sign of it at Brighton 2006. The timing may have been coincidental. The drop-off in goodies may have been due to host hotels upping their charges, spotting a hitherto unremarked profit opportunity. Certainly those few organisations which have provided snacks along with the regulation red and white wine, orange juice and coffee, have laid out the bare minimum.

Another bonus in those days was the quality of the give-aways. I remember the mid-noughties when the Independent gave each representative a bag containing a copy of the newspaper. I still carry a pocket torch given away by the TUC's education department then, though the bag containing it and a pocket rule have gone the way of all plastics after several years service.

One departure which I do not regret is the heavy security from the period when Nick was deputy prime minister, culminating in really oppressive checks and a heavy police presence in Sheffield 2011. Lessons were learned, and the efficient but brisk and friendly checks in York 2014 were a welcome relief. Now we are back to a simple bag-check, for which much thanks - and conference is back in York next spring.

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