Sunday, 14 July 2013

Social Liberal Forum Conference in Manchester : a different experience

I went to my second SLF conference on a very hot Saturday in Manchester. You can read the review from my first one, last year,  here

First impressions were it was all very well organised and I saw a number of familiar faces and friends, including John Leech MP. I was accosted once for being a member of Liberal Reform - having run the Liberal Reform stand at the ALDC conference it seemed beyond at least one person why I would want to be at the Social Liberal Forum conference but otherwise seemed to pass without comment.

As to why I was at the SLF conference, as I answered my accuser, it was as a centrist, because I enjoyed last year and also because I was part of a blogger's interview to interview one of our most successful ministers, Steve Webb.

Vince Cable was there and his talk opened the conference, about how to return to growth. I thought one of the most important points he made was that our issues these days are about identity: immigration, EU, Scotland. I hadn't considered that before but realised he had a point. This is also a point to note for Lib Dems  - that we should have something coherent to say on each of these issues. 

I'm a bit of a Martin Tod fangirl, as I admire his commitment to liberalism at a local level. He spoke eloquently, as I have heard him before, about empowering individuals in their communities, and pointed out local level campaigns can be quite "negatively determined" - i.e. Stop this sort of thing and Save that sort of thing. I agree, and am also happy that at a local level here in Stockport we are running campaigns about new libraries - difficult in straightened economic times but not impossible. 

I was surprised to find two panels in the first break-out sessions without women, as I had thought the SLF were committed to gender equality. I tweeted about it. It seemed someone from Evan Harris' panel was pregnant and unable to travel so hadn't attended. Though I was informed everyone had done their best, I was reminded of the excellent Olly Grender who, on finding that a panel had no women on it, added herself to the panel (it was an area she had expertise in).

Onto lunchtime- and I was privileged to interview Steve Webb with other bloggers, over some sandwiches. Steve was relaxed and confident as ever. I find his manner with activists to be very engaging - both on their level like Tim Farron, yet able to tax us with the intricacies of pensions, keeping us on his level and being interested in our point of view. As Kelly-Marie Blundell told us before she introduced him in the Beveridge lecture, Steve Webb polled really well ahead of the Lib Dem leadership election in 2005, and with that in mind it might be worth considering him as future leadership candidate.

My own question to Steve was over how can people of my age be sure about when they are going to retire. His reply was that within 10 years of retirement, you can be sure FOR YOU that the retirement age will not change. He also spoke eloquently about how they were trying to ensure that post retirement age was something that could be enjoyed, rather than suffered, the point being that quality of life post retirement age may not be great for some people, given many medical conditions (such as dementia) that can occur in older people.

Perhaps it was just in comparison to last year which I found very inspiring on the subjects of community wellbeing and housing, and perhaps I just didn't find the content engaging, but I didn't find the conference as inspiring this year. I admire quite a few of the members of the SLF and their aims, but they either didn't have prominence  - I'd like to see more of Prateek Buch for instance - or it didn't seem to have as much of a coherent sense of itself this year.  

I hope I'm just as welcome next year, these comments none-with-standing, and suspecting a lot of my opinion is because I had such a good time last year. My companion definitely did experience the inspiration factor, and came up with new ideas on the way home.... I really enjoyed seeing so many friends and hope the SLF conference continues into the future. Oh and have a live feed if possible!


Other blogs on the Steve Webb interview

Maolo Manning - Lib Dem Child
Caron Lindsay - Lib Dem Voice 
Mark Jewell


I'll update this "Other blogs" section as I'm made aware of them. 

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