Monday, 16 July 2012

Good times at the Social Liberal Forum

This Saturday I went to Social Liberal Forum's second annual conference in London (though next year they allegedly intend to move it somewhere less south-east-centric). For those who don't know, the Social Liberal Forum is a group of Lib Dems, founded shortly after the creation of the coalition, to be a "critical friend" to the coalition and to develop and promote social liberal policies within the Lib Dems. It's essentially the closest thing to the centre left faction that the Lib Dems have (even though pretty much everyone in the SLF thinks that "left" is a fairly inaccurate and meaningless term).

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.


  1. Clegg really doesnt get it. I hope you can MAKE him get it. I dont see how PIP is going to save money by weeding out the 0.5% of fakers and the other 19.5% of true people are being thrown to the dogs also. This is not reform - This is a disaster. Lives are being lost now due to ESA and more will be lost when PIP tells everyone how they are 'not disabled' any more - Of course they will still be disabled, but not according to their new guidlines where most people are suddenly OK again.

    Of course I will still be disabled. It wont take anything I face daily away from me. It will just make my life more hellish. The trashing of th NHS will make it harder for me to find help. I have had to fight for years and years already for a referral to one clinic. And the pain I feel from the fake stuff they put in me to 'fix' somethignlooks like its failed and I have no idea how they would fix that as it would leave me with no stomach wall. But Ho Hum - who cares, as long as the fat cats get their millions a minion like me can die quietly. It hurts! In more than just a physical way.

    Ya know i wish You could be in Cleggs place - I am sure that you would do something that might kinda sort alot of the problems they are making. Again I say I did not CHOOSE to be disabled. I did not choose for this 'life' Cos its pretty crud being ill and in pain all the time. I live in fear of the surgeons knife, and of having no money to be able to live. I have nobody to look after me or provide for me. But - As I am scum (in eyes of ATOS etc) I feel like I have no right to life.

    Remember the days when DLA was to aid disabled people to be a part of the community and pay the heftier bills disability brings? (On a side note I noticed a large screen clock for the disabled was £40 with large numbers - This was cos its for the disabled with no high profits - Yet on QVC a clock with same size screen was half the price - so it proves the word disabled makes them double the price)

    Sorry to ramble, hurting alot today and in alot of fear for a future

  2. "It was like a regular Lib Dem conference only without those people in the Lib Dems whom I don't like."

    I wasn't there. Does this mean you don't like me? And I thought we were friends:-)

    Seriously, thanks for the update.

  3. What I don't like about Clegg is that he has stopped listening to the membership? Particularly the line about "stop apologising", I don't know one member who has ever apologised for being in government.
    To me Clegg, more and more is showing that he doesn't get it and he doesn't get the membership or the electorate.

    1. Well, as one of my friend's said, "when has Clegg ever apologised for anything?"

  4. Exactly. Not one member has apologised either. We may want to apologise for our actions within the government particularly on welfare and tuition fees but they are for actions not for being in government.

    Also, can you remember what the other questions were in the Q&A were?

  5. The snide comments in this George let you down.


I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

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