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14 September 2008

Someone else’s crisis

A unique experience for a Liberal Democrat Conference in recent years, another party is having the l

By Peter Black

The first morning of Conference has a reassuring air about it. I had arrived the previous night after struggling through flash floods and rush hour traffic. This morning the sun was shining and all seemed right with the world.

Better still, and this is a unique experience for a Liberal Democrat Conference in recent years, another party was having a leadership crisis, not us. What will the media talk about now? Nick Clegg is secure in his office with the support of the party and nobody is taking out nomination papers to oppose him.

This year Liberal Democrat Conference has started a day early in an effort to make it more accessible to those who cannot get time off from their jobs. The first big debate therefore took place on the Saturday afternoon at which representatives discussed a wide range of radical initiatives to give UK Citizens a voice in Parliament.

Proposed measures include a more efficacious system of petitioning MPs and People’s Bills, whereby the six legislative proposals that receive the most petition signatures from registered voters in any given year would be guaranteed a second reading debate in the House of Commons. Proposals to give people the opportunity to veto unpopular Acts of Parliament through a referendum were rejected. Representatives were concerned that allowing people to trigger a plebiscite gathering one million signatures in 60 days would be open to abuse and would undermine the sovereignty of Parliament.

With Lembit Opik MP and Baroness Ros Scott lobbying behind the scenes for their respective Party Presidential campaigns I spent Saturday dodging canvassers for the respective camps before doing what Liberal Democrats like to do best. OK, it might take second place behind socialising in bars. I spoke at a fringe meeting on electoral reform.

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At present the Welsh Assembly does not have the power to change the way that local Councils are elected. I tried to put that right through a private members bill only to see it voted down by Labour AMs. I am not giving up.

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And then it was onto the blog awards. I was shortlisted for Best blog by a Liberal Democrat holding public office, the Tim Garden Award for short. It is the third successive year that I have been shortlisted for this award and was stunned to win it this year.

Although this is a Federal Conference it is also an opportunity to get publicity back home. All of the Welsh media have decamped here so we take every opportunity to get our message across. Sunday morning therefore involves a visit to a homeless hostel in Bournemouth followed by the launch of a new paper on affordable housing in Wales.

A confidential roundtable meeting with the Police Federation follows and then into the main hall to watch the Nick Clegg Question and Answer session. It really is a busy conference and because it is being held a week earlier than usual I am able to stay for the full five days without being called back to Welsh Assembly meetings.

Peter Black is Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West