LIB DEM CONFERENCE - Conference sketch, with Richard Osley in Birmingham

Published: 22 September 2011

AT times there was a feeling that Mr Tick the Teacher was up to something in Birmingham this week. 

Not familiar with Mr Tick’s work?

He’s the kids’ book character who tries to fool inspectors he teaches more students in his village school than he actually does by getting the same six children to attend different classes in different clothes during their visit.

What larks! Ask a six-year-old – they'll tell you – or search Allan Ahlberg on Amazon.

There was no visible sweater swapping at the International Conference Centre (although I didn't go to the end of conference Glee Club party – what happens at a John Hemming piano session, stays at a John Hemming piano session) but it certainly felt the numbers were generally stretched.

Not least because of how the Conservatives, with their naturally larger numbers, populated the same ICC walkways here last year.

This autumn, the same faces seemed to be on every corner.

It was almost as if orders had gone around at the critical moments “to make the cafe look busy”, now “the lobby of the hotel”,  “quick everyone – get to the conference hall”.

When you stopped to stare, you had to double-take to work out how they had teleported from where you’d just been at such lightning speed.

Maybe it’s because the Lib Dems do have that all-look-the-same thing, lots of white men in suits.

A lack of diversity at electoral level is an issue which the party fairly acknowledges.

I’m pretty sure, though, they were actually the same people. Everywhere. At all times. Looking busy.
The former MP  Evan Harris and the current deputy leader Simon Hughes certainly seemed to know some secret passageways – shift a few books in a bookcase somewhere – to be everywhere you looked.
To be fair, the Camden and Islington branches do far more than their bit to make up the numbers at conference time.

Admirably, the loyalty of these members has not been dented by the double blow of losing council control in Camden and failing to secure MPs in constituencies they might have won.

They are still eager to expose Labour hypocrisy – and tell tales of how they have put the brakes on Conservative policy. Look at the HS2 protests.

A few have slipped away into the shadows but the majority are still there.

Impossibly upbeat and not just for the cameras.

Parliamentary candidates Ed Fordham and Jo Shaw, who would face a doubly hard job in the altered electoral landscape to unseat Labour, were fantastically chipper.

There remains strong friendships in the Lib Dem group.

They like each other.

Deserting would mean betraying friends.

From Flick’s house parties to John Bryant's recent wedding, they probably spend more time together than the other two groups.

There is a sense they are weathering the storm through that close-knit friendship. The survivors are resolute.


Post new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.