Ever since last year’s UK elections produced a hung Parliament and the current Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, I’ve been following politics with a keen eye – particularly the travails of the Lib Dems, who find themselves in (sort of) power after many, many decades. It’s been interesting to see the spirited debates on places like Lib Dem Voice and the reactions of party members to their drubbing in last month’s local elections (alternately complacent and apocalyptic).
When I saw that the Social Liberal Forum conference was being held in London on a Saturday (yesterday, actually), with two cabinet members speaking (Chris Huhne and Vince Cable) and tickets for only £25, it seemed like a brilliant opportunity to see how political parties come up with policies at an early stage. The Social Liberal Forum is an:
Internal party pressure group with the aim of developing social liberal solutions and approaches which reflect these principles and which find popular support.
Despite being only two years old, it has around 1800 members and claims to have influenced Lib Dem party policy to a significant degree; so going to the conference wasn’t exactly like going to a proper Party Conference with all the attendant votes and such, but it was definitely a step up from the usual local confab.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been to dozens of conferences from TED to SXSW to FooCamp to book publishing conferences in Italy and spoken at many of them, and my feeling about those is that you rarely learn anything new (apart from maybe TED; otherwise, books and the web are better) but they’re very good places to gauge the general feeling of a community, and of course, to swap gossip. The purpose of the SLF Conference wasn’t clear to me – was it to listen to some speeches, or was it to try and formulate a bit of policy – but either way, I was hoping it’d at least be a novel experience. I also strongly believe that there is desperately little political engagement among the tech community and I wanted to see how things were done.
Due to general laziness and not knowing my way around City University, I ended up missing the first session, which apparently was quite good, but I did arrive just in time for the second session, Deficit Reduction – Ideology or Necessity?
(Side note: This month there was a very big kerfuffle within the Lib Dem community about how attendees to the upcoming Party Conference will need to provide accreditation, i.e. address and passport/driving licence/NI number, to check that they’re not about to embarrass everyone with protests a terrorist. Both the Conservatives and the Labour Party already do this for their conferences, so I think the Lib Dem organisers were taken aback by the strong opposition regarding privacy, civil liberties, etc, not to mention the fact that the decision was made in private.
Anyway, the reason why things are different this year is apparently because David Cameron is speaking at the conference and that the Home Office and the police have ‘suggested’ to the Lib Dems that increased security measures should be in place. After a lot of back and forth in the comments, it emerged that the measures have happened mostly because they couldn’t get insurance for the venue otherwise.
The reason why this is relevant is because when I walked in to the conference venue, all I had to do was say my name and I could pick up a badge. Since I wasn’t asked to show ID, I could have just said any of the names I saw laid on the registration table; and because there was no bag search or metal detectors, well, who knows what someone could have done to two Cabinet Ministers, multiple MPs, and a room full of party activists… but hey, David Cameron wasn’t there, so I guess it’s all OK).
The two speakers were Vince Cable, Business Secretary in the Cabinet, and Ed Randall, a Senior Lecturer in Politics and Social Policy at Goldsmiths. After an endearingly unorganised struggle with the microphones, Vince Cable entered the room and was greeted by a round of applause. I found this a bit odd until I realised that the sentiment was probably along the lines of, “Wow, how awesome are we as a group to get Vince Cable, a Cabinet Minister, to come along to our audience?” rather than “This guy is so amazing he deserves applause wherever he goes.”
(Side side note: There were about 200 people in the room and it was about 90% white, 70% male, and mostly middle-aged. Not many students – I guess they’re all too annoyed with the Lib Dems to come along any more. When I tweeted this observation (along with the caveat that it was probably the same at other Conservative and Labour gatherings), someone told me that it used to be worse. Well, I hate to think what the last meeting was like then…) Continue reading “Policy Games”