Guardian Politics podcast and my 9 reasons why the Lib Dems were so cheerful in Bournemouth

by Stephen Tall on September 25, 2015

I’m one of the contributors to this week’s Guardian Politics podcast, focusing on the three big stories this week: the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth, lurid allegations contained in Michael Ashcroft’s revenge biography of David Cameron, and George Osborne’s trade visit to China.

You can listen to it here.

As ever, I thought of all the things I should have said afterwards. In particular, on why the Lib Dems were in such a chipper mood at conference, I mentioned only a couple of reasons. So here’s a fuller list:

1. Conferences are (nearly) always fun – it’s the one time of the year many of us get to meet up with friends we know from afar and to spend time with fellow politics obsessives with a similar outlook to us.

2. This year’s has also reverted to being a members’ event – a record-breaking attendance, and the desertion of lobbyists, the media and corporate hangers-on, has meant the conference feels like it’s ours again: the hall was pretty full throughout, with fringe meetings over-flowing.

3. No security – don’t underestimate how much more fun conference is when you can just show your pass to get in, rather than have to queue for airport-style security bag searches, belt removal etc.

4. Good debate – a piece of advice I give to anyone attending conference for the first time is to sit through at least one whole policy debate. I never cease to be impressed by the passion, humour and good liberal sense I hear (most of the time!). And thankfully we dodged the bullet of deciding to go full unilateralist on nuclear weapons (and kudos to Tim Farron for leading from the front on this).

5. 20,0000 new members – that’s a 50% increase, up from 40k to 60k. Interestingly, as most joined out of ‘Proalition’ sympathy for the kicking the party took on 7th May, the Lib Dem membership is probably now more moderate and centrists than it’s perhaps ever been.

6. Improving local by-election record – straws in the wind, it’s true, but the party’s performance in local election by-elections post-7th May have been pretty encouraging: some big wins, with our vote up in most places.

7. We’ve avoided a civil war – many of us were braced for a massive falling out post-May, with different wings of the party indulging a vicious blame-game. However, the fact the result was so much worse than anyone expected – and that we lost as badly to the Tories as to Labour – means there has been a rallying to the flag, assisted by a short and mostly civil leadership contest.

8. Corbyn’s election – Labour’s decision to respond to the Tory win by electing a hard-left leader who will make their party unelectable for years to come has undoubtedly opened up a huge political space. The Lib Dems aren’t in the best shape to take advantage; but it’s a lifeline nonetheless.

9. Tim Farron’s speech – as I wrote when I explained why I was voting for him: ‘I’ve heard him speak a few times, and have always felt lifted, energised, inspired. That’s a rare gift. When someone has it, you can do worse than elect them your leader.’ His leader’s speech was pitch-perfect, even winning over the flint-hearted sketch-writers. His denunication of Cameron’s management of the refugee crisis deserved the mid-speech standing ovation it was given.