This year’s conference season coverage starts with a guest blog by Sarah Schoenberger
This weekend, the atmosphere inside Bournemouth International Centre mirrored the weather outside, which unexpectedly brought back a few days of summer: bright sunshine, buzzing excitement and an energy that has not been felt in recent years.
2019 is the year of the Lib Dems. Having grown its number of MPs from 12 to 18 without an election, this is a party that is back in the game to win – and that knows it will win big. Unveiling former Conservative Minister Sam Gyimah as the latest new Lib Dem MP was just one of the highlights of the Conference Rally on Saturday night.
In the papers, there’s been talk about as many as 100 seats the Lib Dems might win at a forthcoming election. In the hall, speakers talk about “when we win the next election”, about the future Prime Minister Jo Swinson, the next Foreign Secretary Chukka Umunna and the next London Mayor Siobhan Benita.
The main hall is full. People are crowding around the entrance, hoping to get a glimpse of whoever is speaking. Cut scene to the small rooms and corridors of the Marriott Hotel: Fringe events are packed, all seats filled, people sitting on the floor and standing around the edges of the rooms. The event ‘What now for the Lib Dems on Brexit?’ takes place in a room that can seat about 20. More than 100 people are queuing up.
And it’s not all about Brexit. Conference passed motions on giving more support to carers; on abolishing the ‘spousal veto’ which allows trans people’s spouses to veto their legal gender recognition; on measures to tackle a wide range of inequalities; on more support for further education, including a new Personal and Education Skills Account for Adults; and on the climate emergency. Attendees discussed jobs which don’t yet exist, and whether one can tax robots.
There’s been some unease as well, and some of the new-joiners had to withstand tough questioning. A Lib Dem member told Phillip Lee MP about the 20 years he had to wait until he could marry his partner. He asked Lee, who abstained on the same-sex marriage vote, whether he had had a similar ‘long engagement’.
Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that there’s a new spring in people’s step. Much praise is heard for Jo Swinson for giving the party new hope, a new direction and new energy. This weekend, we saw a party that knows what it stands for – and a party that is hungry to go to the people, to show that it can deliver what it promises.