“This is the most phenomenal opportunity,” says Simon Hughes
February 26, 2011 § 1 Comment
(Note: Sorry, have been meaning to post this all week, but have been just so busy it’s had to wait until now. Further to that, my blogging may be patchy for the next weeks-as a result of me campaigning all-out to be elected. Thanks.)
On Saturday (February 18th) I was fortunate to attend the East Midlands regional Spring Conference, which this year was held at Brooke Weston City Technology College in Corby, Northants.
It was a great day; wonderful to meet colleagues I haven’t seen in a while and an opportunity to meet some of my fellow Lib Dems for the first time.
It was only my second regional conference and it was made extra special by getting the chance to see and hear Simon Hughes, our Party’s Deputy Leader, in person.
Simon has long since been a hero of mine and one of my favourite Lib Dem MP’s.
Here’s some of the highlights of what he had to say:
* We’re at an important time internationally-new opportunities for the Middle East and North Africa.
* There’s been positive murmurs from the Government, re Europe-because Lib Dems are part of the Government.
* It’s great to have a Deputy Prime Minister that speaks so many foreign languages; it means, for example, that when Nick goes to Spain and gives a speech in Spanish, people really connect with him.
* Domestically, we’ve had a difficult first nine months; but so would have any Government. Labour would have had to make cuts.
* A minority Tory Government would have been a disaster and led, after a General Election which would have come shortly after, more than likely, to a majority Tory Government.
* Our achievements:
* Fair Taxes; pension link to earnings, increase in Capital Gains Tax, Banking levy/Banking Commission.
* A fair start for pupils/the Pupil Premium; schools budget protected.
* Political reform; the AV referendum-never before have been given a chance to vote on our voting system for the election of MP’s to Westminster.
* The ‘No’ campaign are bringing out all of the ‘old dinosaurs,’ the likes of Margaret Beckett and Lord John Prescott.
* Be passionate about Fairer Votes.
* After 100 years, 80% of the House of Lords will be elected-and by PR too!
* The Civil Liberties agenda.
* The Green agenda-we want to move to a more sustainable economy.
* We must support manufacturing.
* Of course there’s also been Bills we didn’t like, including on tuition fees and parts of the NHS Bill.
* On Welfare we need to give everyone an incentive to work.
* On the horizon, a universal pension and a universal tax system.
* Civil ceremonies can now take place in Churches.
* A great backdown on plans to sell off our forests.
* We must remind people that we’re paying off £120million per day on just the interest of the national debt.
* On FE, Simon is advising the Govt, re scholarship’s to university for kids from poorer backgrounds.
* And a better replacement for EMA hopefully.
* Summing up, for the first time, we can influence national Government policy.
* This is the most phenomenal opportunity, we need to be much more positive and bullish.
After he spoke Simon took questions and I was lucky enough to be called by Regional Chair Michael Mullaney.
I asked Mr Hughes the following: “I’m Mathew Hulbert, from Hinckley and Bosworth and a member of ‘Fairer Votes Leicestershire. I’d like to ask about the AV campaign. It was great to see Nick, yesterday, give his speech on why people need to vote yes. Then we saw David Cameron spouting utter nonsense for the ‘No’ lobby…can we, from Nick downwards, point out what rubbish Cameron is saying, and the BBC have decided they’re not going to use the phrase ‘voting reform’ because it sounds too positive, what can we do about this?”
I quote it verbatim, as this was the first time I’ve spoken on the conference floor of any political party conference of any kind, so a historic moment.
Simon said to me that it’s difficult for Clegg to come out and say Cameron is talking nonsense, but that Lib Dems will be using every opportunity to explain why people should support a change in the voting system, but also that this campaign must not be led by politicians, but by people.
On the BBC, Simon told me that Auntie does, indeed, have to be careful to ensure it remains impartial on these matters.
Later in the day, I asked Michael Payne, East Midlands Co-Ordinator of the ‘Yes to Fairer Votes’ campaign, who addressed conference, his take on the BBC situation re AV, and he said we must be strong and resolute to the BBC about why not using the phrase ‘voting reform’ is wrong and to challenge BBC presenters when they appear to give misinformed questions/comments on AV.
Also at conference was the Lib Dem MEP for the East Midlands, Bill Newton Dunn, who updated us on all things Europe and who I was fortunate to have my photo taken with (see pic above.)
All in all a great day for the regional conference, especially hearing from Simon Hughes who sent us off campaigning in renewed good heart, proud of our party, and hopeful of successes still to come.