Agenda: Liberal Democrat conference special

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 September 2017

Norman Lamb MP speaks at last year's Liberal Democrats Autumn conference in Brighton, Sussex

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RICHARD PORRITT with the week's big stories

So to Bournemouth and Sir Vince Cable’s debut at Liberal Democrat conference as leader.

“We need to give people power over the decisions which affect their lives,” he says in the foreword to the conference programme.

Some might say giving the public a say got us into this mess Sir Vince but we back your calls for a second referendum now the British is better informed about the shit-storm Brexit will unleash.

He goes on: “Brexit – pursued by Theresa May with full support from Jeremy Corbyn – is now starting to inflict further economic damage.”

It is a brave decision for Sir Vince to continue his party’s unwavering anti-Brexit stance after a disappointing general election. But as Corbynmania dissipates Remainers will no doubt look to Sir Vince – his conference speech will be a vital first step.

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“Open, tolerant and united” is a Lib Dem buzz phrase often heard dropped into speeches by former leader Tim Farron.

Poor old Tim came rather unstuck during the election for his apparent equivocation on whether he thought homosexuality was a sin – perhaps not that tolerant then ... he later quit saying he did not believe he could be both a committed Christian and a party leader.

So back to safer territory for Tim at this year’s conference where he will be offering reflections at the annual conference prayer breakfast first thing on Monday morning. Sadly it does mean he will probably have to miss the LGBT meeting the night before.

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Tim Farron’s epic election fail overshadowed what was actually a well-mannered and convivial campaign.

He was always available to chat to journalists and would address any topic – not gay sex though – with gusto, enthusiasm and relish. But there were moments when it became clear Tim might not be the most natural in front of the camera. The occasion, for instance, when he bounded over to meet a dog on the campaign trial only to declare as the cameras rolled “smell my spaniel”?

Luckily no future leaders will fall into a similar trap because a media training course for new candidates is one of the highlights of this year’s conference.

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Veteran MP and wily campaigner Norman Lamb strikes a less triumphant tone to Sir Vince in a recent article previewing conference for Liberator magazine – a must-read for grass-roots Lib Dems.

He writes: “There is no doubt that this was a sobering election for the Liberal Democrats. The fall in our national vote share and a record number of lost deposits was disappointing given what we were up against: on the one extreme, an increasingly arrogant and unsympathetic Conservative Party with a Prime Minister who had fought a woeful campaign, content with sacrificing the country’s economic and social interests in pursuit of a Hard Brexit; and on the other, a backward-looking Labour Party in the grip of an emboldened hard-left, hoisting the red flag of 1970s socialism.”

Ouch – grumpy.

Luckily he cheers up somewhat before the end signing off with the slightly more hopeful: “Now is the time to build a powerful, optimistic Liberal vision that can inspire people and give them hope for the future.”

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Saturday night is party night at Lib Dem conference – lock up your sons and daughters (and spaniels) Bournemouth.

A flyer for the night reads: “Lib Dem Disco strikes back – better than ever before with sponsorship from UK Music! Featuring special guest DJs, and running until 1am – come strut your stuff on Saturday night.” As late as 1am?! Those Lib Dems really do know how to party.

The New European thought this might be the perfect event to lift Norman Lamb’s mood and so asked whether he would be donning his dancing shoes, throwing some shapes and reaching for the lasers. “I’ve got to attend a bloody awful 60th birthday party,” he replied, his mood apparently even more gloomy then when he penned his Liberator treatise.

But whose party he is being dragged along to? Norman was born on September 16, 1957. Ah ... that explains his foul mood. Many happy returns.

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Conference virgin? Fear not the Lib Dem’s have a special section dedicated to addressing your fears.

Confused about how to get there? No worries. Concerned about how to ask a question in a debate? They’ve got that covered. Want to download the conference app? Not a problem.

There is also a page about what to wear. It reads: “MPs, candidates and HQ staff will wear business attire, but most people attend conference in casual clothes. The most important thing is that you wear something you’re comfortable in.”

So sandals, a nice woolly jumper and perhaps some elbow patches ... and don’t forget to bring some muesli to knit when the debates get dull. Enjoy.

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