Ten comments on Saturday at Lib Dem party conference

1. Being introduced at a meeting or in a debate at Liberal Democrat conference as a “Minister” is still a plus point, often triggering a round of applause. People at conference like the fact that the party is in government.

2. The Social Liberal Forum (SLF) is growing quickly in influence in the party, partly thanks to a smartly organised set of fringe meetings, amendments and motions. However, the SLF is very keen to repeatedly stress that it is not anti-coalition.

3. The NHS debate was a decision delayed. All sides are happy with the idea that a conference debate is used to set out or strengthen the party’s negotiating position in coalition talks, but those talks need to deliver results for all sides to remain happy (as Evan Harris pointed out in response to a tweet of mine).

4. The question of what, if any, action the party should take to improve the diversity of its Parliamentary Party has long been the cause of fierce debate and postponed decision making. Today conference voted overwhelmingly for the proposals put before it, more positive action than positive discrimination. Even if the result was not a surprise, the margin of the vote was.

5. Both Vince Cable, even after tuition fees, and criticising bankers remain popular with conference representatives.

6. Shirley Williams is still a fantastic speech maker.

7. It’s extremely hard to find London conference reps who want Lembit Opik to be the party’s candidate for London Mayor. They may not be representative of members overall of course, and no-one else has yet thrown their hat into the ring.

8. There was a welcome flicker of extra interest in using the party’s internal systems of democracy with a big increase in the number of questions asked on federal committee reports. Credit to Tim Farron for his answer to my question, promising to include more detail in future Federal Executive reports. As Caron Lindsay pointed out, though, the questioners were all male.

9. Why does my right armpit keep on setting off the metal detectors?

10. And finally, for those watching my mini-campaign to get people in the party to talk about “community politics” more frequently: kudos to Paul Burstow (two mentions in his conference speech) and to Nick Clegg (one mention in his foreword to the latest LGA pamphlet).

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