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My first time at Conference - by new Chinese LibDem member, Nicholas Chan

October 3, 2019 11:22 AM

Chinese LibDems meet for lunch during Lib Dem ConferenceThe party conference came at an exciting time not least because of the massive increase in support for our party, The Liberal Democrats, over the past year. I am one of the new members who joined the party over the last year. There is little doubt the expense of attending conference can be a concern. After all, a quick getaway to the Mediterranean may cost just as much, and those seaside beaches may be a little more exotic than the familiar Bournemouth. However, I am confident you will find a four days trip with the Lib Dems appealing after reading my experience, a first time at the national party conference.

Our values on liberty and inclusiveness do not just begin with the electorate but is embedded within the party beginning with the chance to shape party policies. Sure, there are dominant voices lobbying to pass a motion as it is, or arguing for which amendments will be preferred. However, anyone can pick up a speaker's card to project one's voice. There were many lively debates including the motion to revoke Article 50 should we be the governing party after the next election. I found it stimulating how many first time speakers who went up to speak, in pursuit of their convictions. The FCC also has a mechanism to ensure a balanced voice in each motion debate. I shall take more time reading the motions ahead of conference next time.

I spent a considerable amount of time at fringe events. There are training sessions for everything, from using campaign software to insights on selection. It may never be too early to prepare. Then there are the fringe events that groups make pitches on their convictions. The fringe events ranged from packed rooms within the conference centre to small but more insightful lobby events in some nearby pubs. The seminars within the conference zone usually lobbied predominant topics such as gender balance, environmental issues, and liberty issues. One fringe event I attended was the Big Tech and Extremism event organised by Rights, Liberties, Justice. There are questions being put forward to challenge the balance between free speech and control. Extremism and the balance of liberty challenges brought up during the seminar was not limited to the customary concern of terrorism over the internet; but especially of interest in the growing disinformation campaign organised by autocratic countries such as China and Russia. Whilst such fringe events certainly increased my awareness and provided new idea I can deliberate on, I was also sure to lookout for leaflets handed out for smaller events. I found them a great opportunity to make a few new contacts. Politics is not just about supporting but also campaigning for one's beliefs. I will be interested in pursuing a fringe event on the human rights degradation by the Chinese Communist regime on ethnic minorities and the concerning situation in Hong Kong in upcoming conferences.

After the rallies and speeches, comes exciting social time with evening drinks. The first night comes with free drinks as a treat from the party for new members. This is in addition to the enthusiasm as Sam Gyimah made his first speech as a Liberal Democrat MP. There were 900 new Lib Dems who attended that night. Jo Swinson was there too to give a rousing speech. It is uplifting and arousing to campaign for the possibility of a Liberal Democrat government. Imagine the policies and visions that our party could offer to shape our country within the European Union. On the last night, Alistair Carmichael held a whiskey night. I had the chance to chat with his staff at the whip's office while enjoying the glasses of whiskey specially selected. The variation of aroma from differing whiskey, bottled from differing places using water from varying catchment areas is both fascinating and relaxing. If I am forced to name one slight disappointment, it is I would have liked the raffle prize to be a bottle of fine single malt scotch rather than Alistair's mug. Don't get me wrong, it's a funny mug, but I would still prefer the bottle!

More importantly, the conference also provides the opportunity to reflect and acknowledge how important your family is. I missed out on the opportunity to book accommodation in Bournemouth. Luckily, my wife gladly took me around venues and back to the hotel for all four days of the conference. It reminds me how important my family is and the apparatus that stands by readily for any campaigns that I may lead. The beautiful Southern English coastline stretching all the way to Swanage is a great reward for my wife who is also a Geography teacher. There are many geographical features for her to explain over meals at a nearby Korean restaurant the fancier dinners at the Marriot.

The conference is inspirational to testing and challenging times ahead as we fight for the right to stay in the European Union. To shape a liberal and outward Britain, stronger and more influential within Europe. The conference is a time for social, lobbying, as well as tranquillity by the sea. Oh yes, do not forget as a first time member, one gets a first time discount to the conference.

Picture: Chinese LibDems held an informal social catchup over lunch at Conference. Nicholas seen in a black shirt.