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Liberal Democrat conference – a very personal reflection

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vince cable lib dem ss 17

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I attended my very first Liberal Democrat conference in 1996. I was a relatively new activist and loved the energy, the people and the vibe. I felt I had found my political home. In 1997, I was a constituency rep and made my first speech (on whether oral contraceptives should continue to be free) and in spring 2000 my by-election campaign was softly launched.

Conference was never the same again for me, because by summer 2000 I was a member of parliament and would remain so for the next ten years. For those ten years I was constantly in demand, everyone wanted to see me, I had to deal with some controversial issues when I had the equality portfolio and inevitably, at the end of conference week, I had lost my voice — Theresa, I feel your pain. 

In 2010 I lost my seat and lost my mother. There was a void in my life and in between my mother dying, and her burial, I spent a couple of days at the first conference which coincided with the Lib Dems being part of a government.

I stood for election for various party committees and spent a very enjoyable few terms as a member of our Federal Conference committee, working with some fabulous Liberal Democrats, at the very heart of conference planning and organisation. My pharmacy commitments have led to me scaling back on party commitments, so 2017 was very different yet again. I was attending conference anyway and, in many ways, this was to catch up with old friends, but I was also very keen to participate in any pharmacy-related activities.

This was where the first shock came. I hadn’t been able to attend previous autumn conferences due to family commitments half way around the world, so I hadn’t noticed the transition from a party in power to a party which held decreasing relevance to many organisations. Wrongly in my view, but I would say that wouldn’t I? I was shocked to see that the conference was a shadow of its former self. This was most noticeable by the reduced number of external organisations, both sponsoring fringe events and taking the time and trouble to host a stand.

At RPS we have had a lot of staff changes so there was a conscious decision to have a lower conference profile this year than in previous years. But, I was delighted to see the National Pharmacy Association, in prime position, offering cardiovascular health checks and organising a fringe meeting. The chair of that meeting commented on the excellent quality of the debate and was gently reminded that this was inevitable at a gathering of Lib Dems. Earlier in the day there was a health Q&A for party activists to question party spokespeople and I was reassured to hear that pharmacy and pharmacists were part of the thinking. 

So, I took the time to refresh acquaintances with key parliamentarians, and promises were made to renew conversations about the contribution that pharmacy has to offer. They are promises to keep, but there were also miles to go before I slept. Duty done, I sought the company of old friends and over a bevvie or two we discussed life, the universe and whether there is any traction in the idea of a realignment of the centre left of British politics.

So, while the Lib Dems regroup and rebuild, I can’t help but notice that other parties have their own challenges. My political world is shaken but there is still one political truth that remains true: politicians like people to bring them solutions. As I refocus on pharmacy I realise that there is much to do.

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