How quickly time flies; it certainly doesn’t seem like a year has passed since I wrote my last Conference column.
It’s no secret the previous 12 months have been difficult and challenging for the Liberal Democrats nationally. Despite keeping control in Eastbourne, we lost both the AV referendum and a number of seats on councils across the UK. However, we still managed to have an exceptionally positive conference.
The Liberal Democrats are in government yet these are the most challenging economic conditions any government has had to face since the Second World War.
The Coalition is making the tough, but necessary, decisions to ensure our economy survives. Some of these difficult decisions have proved unpopular but in order to ensure the nation’s finances are stable, at such a time when economies around us are on the verge of collapse, they have, in my view, broadly been the right decisions.
Conference, as usual, involved a great deal of early starts and late finishes.
I spoke at a number of fringe events and met with a range of groups and organisations including the MS Society, Parkinson’s UK, the Federation of Small Businesses, Citizens Advice, and many more.
I was also able to meet with representatives from the British Council of Shopping Centres in my role as an Officer of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Town Centres.
I’m taking a leading role in this group to share and learn new ideas to develop town centres, in order to grow our very own centre. Jobs and the local economy, as everyone knows, are my number one priority.
At one fringe event hosted by the think tank ResPublica, which focused on localising skills-driven growth strategies, there was great interest in the recent success we’ve been having with the MP’s Commission and the apprenticeships challenge.
I also spoke at a fringe on late diagnosis, which focused on hearing loss and bowel cancer. Patients are reluctant to take action over symptoms, or do not recognise them, and there is sometimes a failure on the part of GPs to diagnose the conditions and refer correctly.
The Lib Dems have been in coalition for 500 days, and the conference allowed us time to reflect on some of our successes in government, such as the ringfencing of bank’s investment and retail sectors, to protect people’s savings; a green investment bank investing £3 billion in green jobs; an increase in the income tax allowance, putting extra money in the pay packets of the least well off in society – and a commitment to increase it yet further during this Parliament.
This is not to mention investment in early years education, the pupil premium, flexible working for families, shared parental leave, new social housing, criminal justice reform, fixed-term parliaments, keeping Post Offices open, better mental health care, increasing capital gains tax for the rich, stopping compulsory retirement, protecting pensions with the ‘triple lock’ guarantee, scrapping ID cards and putting an end to child detention.
I left conference tired, but feeling very refreshed. We’re having an important say in the government’s agenda and there’s more to come.
Now is a time when the country is being forced to tighten its belt, which makes it challenging and frankly, pretty uncomfortable at times.
It is important though that we keep focused on the main goal – getting our country through this desperate economic downturn securely and safely.
It will be hard, it is hard – but I profoundly believe; it can be done.