And, all I have to say is that the conferences was fricking fun! It was brilliant! It was like a regular Lib Dem conference only without those people in the Lib Dems whom I don't like - with the (dis)honourable exception of Nick Clegg who turned up to give the first annual Beveridge lecture (named after the Liberal peer who wrote the report laying out the foundation of the modern NHS and welfare state).
As far as I'm concerned the speech by Clegg was adequate - loose and general enough that he managed the fairly difficult task of not pissing off an audience that was already fairly hostile or, at the very least, unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt. So kudos to whoever wrote the speech for him.
The brief question and answer session that followed, however, left me very dissatisfied with him. I was fortunate enough to get picked and my question was, paraphrasing, something along the lines of:
"In your speech you talked about tackling the giant evils such as poverty and squalor but how does this square with the government cutting disability benefits for thousands of vulnerable people?"To which his reply was to talk about Disability Living Allowance, effectively saying that with the reassessments those who needed support would get it and we'd have to see what the outcome was. Which makes you wonder if he's ever even heard of Employment and Support Allowance (the modern version of incapacity benefit) and it being time limited, or about the social fund being butchered and dismantled. Because either he knew nothing about the welfare reforms or he was deliberately not talking about the difficult bits of them. And, if as I am fairly confident, it was the former, then quite clearly he doesn't even bother to glance at the motions passed by conference or he would have seen the ESA motion passed last autumn.
Unfortunately I only got the one question so I couldn't follow up to put him on the spot but I guess that's what the Q&A session at autumn conference is for.
But the general consensus among the people I spoke to afterwards, and the consensus among SLFers on twitter, was that Clegg "just doesn't get it" and that he needs to get out the Westminster bubble.
But, aside from Clegg, who dashed off right after his speech because, you know, engaging with members clearly isn't high on his "to do" list, the rest of the conference was good.
There were lots of interesting panel discussions and I met up with some of my favourite people - hat tips to Natasha Chapman, Fiona White, Sue Doughty, Evan Harris, Tom Wood, Kavya Kaushik, and so many, many others. I did also note a socialist whom a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) decided to sneak into the conference as a guest without anyone noticing. Fortunately the worst said socialist did was to steal one of the speakers to come and speak to the debating society at said socialist's uni.
I also managed to get myself conscripted into running in two internal elections (gulp) and finally found the charging zone in time to save my phone but not in time to save my laptop which remained dead for the entire journey home.
Afterwards, in true liberal tradition, we all decamped to a nearby pub where we had many interesting discussions - only a handful of them obscene - before I went off to a Japanese restaurant for dinner with some friends where I tried sake for the first time.
And that, I think, sums up the social liberal forum and what being a member of it is about: grumbling about Clegg, interesting debates, meeting friends, talking policy, and alcohol.
P.S. One bit I particularly liked was what one speaker (whose name escapes me) said about what the coalition exist strategy should be: We shouldn't walk out of the coalition, we should keep on irritating the tories until they walk out of the coalition.
P.P.S. The bit I didn't like was that, while most of my favourite people were at the conference, a significant number were in Scotland and unable to attend.