Monday, March 14th, 2011

miss_s_b: (Mood: Brain Hurts)
If you are going to go to an unfamiliar place, and fancy somewhere cheap and cheerful to stay, you might be considering an Etap "hotel". We decided when we went to conference that we would take that option. We were paying £40 a night for it; for reference, this is more than four times as much as you can pay for a night in a Travelodge.

I realise that £40 a night is a low price by hotel standards. The thing is, the Etap hotel in Sheffield doesn't meet hotel standards. I'd actually posit that it would struggle to meet prison cell standards. The room we were initially given had its window open when we dumped our bags. We shrugged, closed it, and went out to do conferencey stuff. When we came back we discovered why the window had been open. There was an all-pervasive stench of sewage. Thankfully the smell of sewage turned out to be optional; we were moved to another room and this turned out to be less aromatic, but in all other respects it matched the initial room exactly.

The bed wasn't merely uncomfortable; it was uncomfortable in that special way that only something that has tried really really hard to be uncomfortable can be. It felt like the mattress had been stuffed with builder's sand. There was just enough give in it to give me a really really bad back and wake me up with the pain at four am. The bed was also short enough for [personal profile] magister's feet to be hanging off the end. And, precariously balanced above the double bed was a single bunk at exactly the right height to bang your head on. But the bed wasn't my only gripe.

The bed is situated in a room which is... not luxuriously large. There is about an 18 inch gap around the bed on all sides. given that the bed was small enough for James's feet to be hanging off it, you can imagine how cramped this is. The toilet was in what we poor uninitiated fools thought was the ironing board cupboard. The walls of it were covered in pointy artex which scratched my arms when I needed the loo. And the bog roll... Well, it wasn't Izal. That's the most positive thing I can find to say about it.

The telly was default set to be unreasonably loud, and had a bizarre selection of channels - the usual 5 terrestrial ones, the day before's BBC parliament, and a French news channel. It was tiny and not well tuned in. There was one small chair that you couldn't actually position anywhere you might want to sit; it was a badly painted bit of plywood. It was not, though, I grant you, as badly painted as the doors of the lift. I've done better jobs myself. When drunk. The carpet was a horrible synthetic stuff which actually made my feet itch. The available food was Ginster's pasties, which were priced at £3 each.

There was no kettle, one very flat pillow per person, one tiny bar of soap for the whole room, and two small threadbare hand towels. We found someone else's hardcore porn in the room too. Which is always lovely.

And best of all, when I was in town on Saturday I went to Lush and bought myself some new stuff to use in the shower. Which disappeared this morning. The cleaner either threw it away or pinched it; whichever it was I don't really care. I just know that if I ever get the opportunity to stay in an Etap hotel again, I shall instead avail myself of the facilities of a park bench, which will be more comfortable and will at least not leave me feeling like I have spent four week's food budget on being tortured.

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miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
At something of a rough time for the party, the FCC was perhaps wise to pick a series of Bread and Circuses motions for conference. Although some of what was said in debate might have been controversial outside the hall, not one of those votes was going to cause real ructions among the party faithful. I suspect, with a heavy heart, that this is why no Immigration motion was on the agenda again. The possibilities for adverse publicity are just too high with that one.

But no true Lib Dem was going to seriously argue against saving the NHS, or DLA, or Linda Jack's brilliant Youth Justice reforms. Yes, there were some scuffles over bits of each of these motions, but none of them was really controversial. The Strategy motion was always going to be adopted with whoops and cheers, and the Access to Justice motion was similarly loudly and enthusiastically adopted.

The thing is... Lib Dem Conference is about robust debate. And without it, it all felt a bit flat. Motherhood and apple pie is all very comforting, but I wanted some fire in my belly. For the first time ever the media are actually paying proper attention to what happens at conference, and while they are still doing their best to misrepresent us, we don't really help ourselves by not showing them the principled and glorious debates we can have over stuff we don't all agree on. The Diversity motion is a case in point. We seem to have one every conference, and usually it is a source of very interesting debate between the pro and anti positive discrimination camps. But the motion this time was such a flaccid fudge that nobody could really object to it. Not even me.

I can understand why, with the hordes* of protesters outside, there was the urge to hunker down and support the tribe. I just wish we hadn't given in to it completely.

* up to a thousand, but mostly just a handful, and on Sunday, for most of the day, just one

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miss_s_b: (Default)
The keynotes speeches at conference were a bit of a mixed bag this time. Floella seemed to be having bother with the autocue at the rally, and El Ex-Presidente's emotional handover of the gavel and On Liberty to Tim Farron was beautifully done but (given my I'm 4 Ros ness) was a bittersweet moment for me. Farron's speech was a barnstormer, as usual, and Cleggy did ok.

Cleggy's Q&A was interesting. Quite a lot of the questions he was asked were giving him a very respectful and mild-mannered kicking, and to his credit he only did a bit of ducking and eliding. He genuinely does seem to relish debate and interaction, and was visibly sad when the time was up. For me, the Q&A worked a lot better than his closing speech, which had some wonderful moments, almost all of which were then tempered with wrong. For example "We're not left. We're not right. We're liberal!" which garnered huge cheers, but was then modified to "we have the freehold to the centre ground in politics" - um.... No. We're not on the left right axis at all. We're not boring, middle-of-the-road, populist hoggers of the centre ground, and painting us as such does us no favourz.

And then he resurrected the spectre of Alarm Clock Britain. I don't know who keeps telling him that it's a good idea to remind people of the thing they hate, the thing that makes them get out of bed and go to work, the bastard alarm clock, in every sodding speech, but I don't know one single person who really resonates with the phrase. When he went into depth explaining what he meant by it, things became a bit clearer. This is his term for the squeezed middle, the entitlement queens who claim that nobody pays them any attention. Now sure, these people are important. But Clegg, in his speech, made them out to be the important people. Maybe in terms of courting their votes, but in terms of social justice? No. We should be fighting for the poor and disadvantaged and dispossessed, not those who are perfectly capable of fighting for themselves, and very often do so by trampling on the poor and disadvantaged and dispossessed.

Clegg did have a tough gig this time, though, so I can forgive him for hitting a couple of wrong notes. Yes, he's in front of a home crowd, but that home crowd is not necessarily a friendly one. For example, we had a lovely view of Sheffield Forgemasters from our hotel, and that spectre, however unjustified it may be, refuses to go away. And I think he slightly misjudged it. His keynote speech in Liverpool (co-written by the very sexy Richard Reeves) was absolutely dead on. This time he failed to reach those heights, which is a pity. But I'd still say he did OK.

Our new president, on the other hand, is still very much the darling of conference. By Cthulhu the man can do a good speech, and a passable song too (more on Glee Club later). His "I'm Northern, me" schtick went down very well in Sheffield, and he is excellent at judging the mood of a crowd and tailoring his speaking to match. In terms of the party presidency, I'm still not sure he's what we need at this time, but I love him as a speaker as much as I always have.

The other speaker I feel I should mention is Don Foster. We didn't have a CGB auction this time, but that didn't put Don off; he simply did his CGB auctioneer act for the whole of conference ayt the appeal before the leader's speech, and it was as witty and clever and hilarious as ever. It was a heartwarmer, and I was glad to see it happen.

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#ldconf: the mood

Monday, March 14th, 2011 12:34 pm
miss_s_b: (Default)
There's always an overall mood to conference. Liverpool was cheerful and full of hope, for example, which resonated well with the host city. This one, though... was harder to categorise for me. It felt like there was something missing. Well, there were several things missing, from our beloved blogger of the year, to Viv who always leads us in We Shall Overcome at Glee Club, but there was something missing in the atmosphere. Old friends and new were there in abundance (shout out to the DELGA massive, among many many others), and yet somehow the smiles and hugs felt slightly brittle.

I think there's still a degree of discomfort in the party that we are now being protested against, rather than being the protesters. The protesters were mostly ok, and I had interesting conversations with several of them, but some of their behaviour left a sour note. When is it acceptable to tip a disabled person out of their wheelchair? When is it acceptable to hurl abuse at children? And while Alex4Galloway's response to her treatment was admirable - getting up to do a speech and tacking a bit onto the beginning about refusing to remove her lanyard, which I actually punched the air at - it should not be necessary.

Even Glee Club felt a bit subdued - Huppmeister J's very witty riff on Tom Lehrer notwithstanding - and the lack of Viv, plus kicking off with a modified-for-Barnsley version of Losing Deposits was sobering to say the least. The most heartfelt "singing" was definitely reserved for 12 Days of Coalition, and "BUGGER ALL" was belted out with almost venomous gusto.

So yes, we're finding bedding in to coalition difficult, and we don't understand why we are getting all the flak when we are the ones who are the brakes on the Tory juggernaut - or rather, we do understand, but we don't like it. But the doom mongers who say the party is going to fracture? I don't think they know us very well. This party has seen much much worse adversity than this, and come through with head held high. So yes, we're a little hurt, a little fragile, and a bit annoyed at our continued batterings for things which either we can't do anything about, or we are actively trying to do what the people who are bashing us want us to do and they're bashing us anyway. But we're not splitting, we're not giving up, and we're not losing our determination.

We're not a party of superficiality, we're a party of substance, and if you keep bashing away at the surface, all you are going to do is reveal that substance more clearly.

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Hello! I'm Jennie (known to many as SB, due to my handle, or The Yorksher Gob because of my old blog's name). This blog is my public face; click here for a list of all the other places you can find me on t'interwebs.

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