I will be putting up copies of speech notes by presenters in the next day or two. In the meantime I give a somewhat personal take on the conference below. There may be gaps that others who were present might like to fill – or indeed corrections by others so feel free to add any comments below!
Firstly the conference went well. We had 65 to 70 on the day and had hoped for more given that nearly a hundred registered.
Clearly there was a lot of interest in the event and it showed in the audience response on the day – with many questions and points made from the floor to the panel following presentations by the speakers.
There were two clear over-riding themes that dominated the conference: the role of the Liberal Democrats and the need for electoral reform.
The role of the Liberal Democrats
The feeling from the floor was that the Liberal Democrats have a decisive role to play – if they have the will to do so and if they can win back trust. This is not just about working with other progressive parties but whether a wider public is willing to give them another chance following their role in the coalition government.
Despite a strong presentation by Andrew George about the value of a progressive alliance, and a forthright defence of the Liberal Democrats in the last coalition government by Neal Lawson, a Labour party member and chair of Compass, it remained a subject of ongoing discussion.
The best that can be said is that the audience inched towards a more positive if cautious stance towards a Liberal Democrats role in any progressive alliance in Cornwall and nationally. What happens next – in Cornwall at least – is very much down to the Liberal Democrats.
The need for electoral reform
The second issue drew more unity. Owen Winter from Make Votes Matter spoke with conviction and passion at both his presentation and during the panel discussion. There was strong support from the audience for Proportional Representation and broad agreement that no long lasting policy goal was possible – be it a fully funded NHS or addressing climate change – without fundamental electoral reform. To stagger on under the present First Past The Post was to risk repeating history time and again: a split in the majority progressive vote allowing the Tories back in on a minority of votes.
Perhaps the one fault line that emerged during discussion of this theme was ‘Where does Labour stand?’. For Amanda Pennington of the Green Party this is a red line. There can be no progressive alliance with Labour if they do not embrace electoral reform as a major manifesto commitment. She also stressed the need for a proper written constitution.
At the end I gave a brief speech outlining next steps. These included setting up local groups in Penwith, Mid Cornwall and North Cornwall so that people could meet, discuss and canvass their local areas to gain support for this initiative. I also sketched out a proposal for a ‘constituency compact’ – more an idea than a fleshed out plan – in which prospective parliamentary candidates would commit to a set of pledges and place these above party allegiance. They had to be a voice for Cornwall first and foremost – party allegiance came a long second. Clearly this is ambitious and needs thinking through. It is these and other ideas that I hope to take to local groups.
Finally I also mentioned an interactive map of the 2013 Cornwall elections which shows the split in the progressive vote and the unexpected results at Ward level. We hope to add in a list of names up for election in May – if we get this in time! It comes with a big health warning: it cannot be used as a predictive tool since ward election outcomes are as much down to personalities as party allegiance – but it may encourage people to vote wisely! I hope to have this up soon.