Sunday, 20 September 2015

Fringing (continued)

Working backwards, there was the ... well, actually my last action was to travel back on the bus from the centre of Bournemouth to the B&B in the east of the city. I mention this because it is remarkable that there is a frequent (ten to twenty minute interval) seven days a week, from very early to very late (the 21:20 I caught was by no means the last on a Sunday, and the buses run up to midnight on a weekday) modern and well-patronised bus service along the coast from Poole to Christchurch. Oh, how I wish there was a similar service from Swansea to Margam via Skewen and Neath. The people in south Dorset benefit from uncrowded roads. A well-used bus service through Skewen would reduce the snarl-ups in New Road.

Anyway, the fringe meeting I left in order to catch the bus was hosted by Liberal Democrat Voice and dealt with foreign policy. Chaired by Caron Lindsay and featuring William Wallace, Julie Smith and Nick Tyrone, discussion centred on Liberal Democrat relations with USA, Russia and the nations of the middle and near east. I thought the appreciation of the situation in Syria and Iran was simplistic. While there was general agreement that once having intervened one should be in for the long haul, there were one or two regrets that UK had not indulged in the "hit and run" bombing exercises against Bashar al-Assad's defences, a move which would in my opinion have done no more than bring forward the situation which now exists.

The meeting before that was a joint Electoral Reform Society/LDER session on how to go forward with electoral reform. Chaired by Miranda Green, guest panellists were Owen Winter from the Youth Parliament who is now on the ERS council, Katie Ghose, chief executive of the ERS, and Katherine Trebeck of Oxfam. (No male dominance in either meeting!) Much of the ground had already been covered at the LDER AGM, but there was a big contrast in numbers. It was standing room only at tonight's meeting. I had been looking forward to seeing the billed Stephen Kinnock MP and asking him whether he would recommend fair votes for local government to his party colleagues in the Welsh Government. However, he had found he had been double-booked and preferred to joust verbally on Radio 4's Westminster Hour with Antoinette Sandbach and our own Norman Lamb. At least he had sent a statement declaring his passionate support for electoral reform, reinforced by the mathematical absurdity of the general election results. Katherine Trebeck shared some lessons from her native Australia's governance, and from her experience of campaign successes in other areas.

The final session for Sunday of the conference proper comprised reports from the Diversity Engagement Group, which is meant to engage in party activity and hopefully in elected office people who are from ethnic minorities, and from the Campaign for Gender Balance. There were attacks on both on grounds of lack of progress and careless use of language, but both were eventually accepted by conference.

The debate on a Welsh Liberal Democrat motion calling for a 15 percentage points cut in VAT on tourism is covered elsewhere and Liberal Democrat Voice will no doubt provide a report of the Q&A session with the party leader, for which I could not find a seat.

Previously, conference had discussed education and health matters, but we have our own troubles in Wales so I occupied myself with more exploration of the city centre. I missed the first minutes of a lunch-time Welsh campaign meeting, at which there was robust discussion, due to overrunning of the morning's EU business, capped by a super speech by D66's Sophie in 't Veld, richly laced with jokes and flattering remarks about Britain and the Liberal Democrats.

Painful memories of the AV and Scottish Independence referendums clearly influenced conference's endorsement of a resolution to set up our own campaign for "remain" in next year's EU referendum, though an amendment accepting cooperation with other bodies with similar interests was accepted. David Cameron's ideas as to who should be permitted to vote came in for criticism and we voted to include 16-18-y-os, EU citizens resident here and UK citizens residing in the EU in the ballot.

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