It’s spring conference time, so there I was up at silly o’clock yesterday to get the 7am train to Harrogate.
The train was excellent: free power and wifi for our laptops – in standard class; drinkable tea; pretty countryside. What’s not to like?
Change at York: our next train is on platform 8. We have signs for platforms 1-7, 9 and 10-12. Platform 8 is cunningly hidden, but we find it, and get the bus-like train to Harrogate. I love this bit of the journey: pretty little stations that evaded Beeching with names like Poppleton; the stunning view of the river at Knaresborough; and then Harrogate itself.
Harrogate is a great conference venue, a place you’d be happy to visit anyway. The centre is very compact, which is great for conference, but can make finding accommodation a challenge.
My hotel is strategically placed between the station and the conference centre (and nearly opposite Betty’s tea rooms). Some folk are commuting from as far away as Leeds. Although not our intern James. He not only blagged a first class train ticket from an Islington member whose travel plans had changed, but then swiftly relocated from Leeds to Harrogate, taking up the room of another Islington delegate who’d suddenly fallen ill. Clearly a man to watch.
Conference proper started last night, but we arrived early for training. Long hours listening scribbling top tips, collecting handouts, shuttling from one classroom to another. (Why are the training rooms called suites when there is neither loo nor drinks for miles?) I kept expecting to find myself back in double Maths with Miss Wyeth. Quite appropriate for an education-themed conference. The training is excellent and we headed for the rally full of new ideas.
The pre-rally reception was such a tight squeeze that the host speaker could barely get in. They say the secret of a successful party is too many people in too small a space, with plenty of drink. The reception was working on the Meatloaf principle (two out of three ain’t bad).
The rally itself was a celebration of 21 years of the LibDems, elegantly reviewed by Alix here: jazz, videos, uplifting speeches, and a reminder of how far we’ve come.
I remember those dire years after merger, the party coming 5th in a Euro election, our unofficial theme song “The only way is up”. And now we are the most successful liberal party in Europe, and Labour is down to a 484 majority in Islington South. Lord Rennard suggests our new theme should be “you’ll never walk alone”. It’s a great tune, but not one we’ll be singing on the Arsenal-loving streets of Islington.
Then dinner with friends and onto the local government reception – in time to see Islington council win the award for regeneration. Not a bad start to the weekend.