Activate 2012: A diary

By Natasha Chapman

At the beginning of the weekend, Tom Wood, the chair of Liberal Youth, said that he wanted: “Liberal Youth to focus on more than just Liberal Youth”. I was in total agreement. It is important for us to do if we are to be taken seriously as an organisation and continue to come up with great policy motions to put to the Federal Party.

After arriving at Billingshurst station I was picked up by two members of the exec, along with Ab Brightman, another delegate to the event taking place just down the road. We walked around to the camping site to drop off our bags, ending up staying to watch George Potter’s battle to put up his tent.

Eventually we headed up to the barn, to meet up with a great mixture of both regular and new Liberal Youth people. We were told that everyone could have a branded mug with their own name on it. This turned out to be a mug with “LY Activate” scribbled on with sharpie pen that you had to write your own name onto the other side. I somehow ended up with two mugs, which I’m sure was somehow the then policy officers’ fault.

We had an amazing evening, topped off by a barbecue for dinner. Later, in the barn, Tom passed around a toilet roll, telling delegates to “take as much as they needed”, which prompted Matt Folker to have an angry outburst on behalf of delegates about how we were not going to be rationing toilet paper and how he would drive to the shops to buy some more if necessary. As it happened, Tom was not actually trying to ration the paper and instead asked everyone to share one fact about themselves for every piece of toilet paper they had torn off the roll. A very effective ice-breaker!

Sleeping outside in a tent for a Liberal Youth event was a new experience, and a fun one. Unfortunately I did end up waking up at 5:30 am to go for a wander, much to Matt’s disgust whom I had woken up in the process. The rain during the night added to the sleep-deprived fun as we later discovered water in our tent, though it was nothing compared to the “swimming pool” in Sarah’s.

Breakfast seemed to help to wake everyone up. This was followed by a fantastic training session with campaigning guru Steve Jolly. As well as equipping us with some useful tips, he also advised any Liberal Democrat feeling low about the compromises the party has had to make in government to grab some popcorn and head to ConservativeHome to see how much we’re upsetting their members. We learned about what makes effective campaign literature, how to make messages clearer and how to get the vote out.

There was some confusion among new members when discussing “knocking up” voters, which lead to Kavya Kaushik’s helpful suggestion of a new strategy for increasing membership of the party: “If we can’t recruit them, we will MAKE them!”

Around this time a tweet wall went up so that everyone could see messages from members who couldn’t attend the event and communicate more easily with them. This was, of course, immediately abused by George who decided to post up a link to some Cameron/Clegg slashfic. We did receive encouraging tweets from other Liberal Youth members who were following the #lyactivate hashtag, as well as a nice tweet from Jo Swinson MP saying that she had fond memories of Liberal Youth.

After our training session with Steve, we had the leader of Portsmouth City Council; Gerald Vernon-Jackson, give a motivational talk about his council’s successes and how it has managed to remain firmly Lib Dem despite the national situation. He also took questions and shared advice, saying that young candidates worked well for the party and often led to positive publicity. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stay for lunch, as he said he had to go and run a workshop on “How to kill Tories” elsewhere.

Our best training session, however, was in the afternoon in which we had a session of non-formal teaching where we were divided into groups to teach each other based on what members of each group already knew a bit about, such as how to write a policy motion or set up a branch of Liberal Youth. There were some interesting results, including an interpretive dance about the constitution, a policy motion on wasp genocide, and a motion on whether or not to bully Harry Matthews all weekend which, fortunately for him, it didn’t pass (possibly because he threatened not to give anyone who voted for  it a lift to the station).

The second evening was as enjoyable as the last. We had dinner at a pub across the road, and together formulated a solution to having nine boxes of cornflakes left over. Sarah went out and bought a lot of chocolate, and used the excess cornflakes to make…cornflake cakes! They were delicious, and according to Sarah: “the best thing Liberal Youth has ever achieved”.

On the final morning we were told that if we wanted breakfast we would have to use our mugs as cereal bowls. Appalled at this austerity, a group of us drove into Billingshurst, found a lovely tea room and had a proper breakfast. We were rather late to the first training session as a result, but it was definitely worth it.

The training session was on public speaking, kicking off with a role-play that involved Vladimir Putin, Beyonce, the Queen and David Beckham on a hot air balloon which was sinking. They each had to make the case for why they should stay on the balloon while the rest of us voted for who to throw off to save the others. Putin was the first to go, followed by Beyonce (whose “booty” was weighing down the balloon). The deciding factor between Beckham and the Queen was the question: “How did you accumulate your wealth?”. We voted to throw out the Queen.

The weekend finished with a few “Paper plate awards”;

Worst Dressed: Tom Wood (for his god-awful shirt)

Best Dressed: Ab Brightman (for her LY Activate shirt)

Best Training Session: The policy motion group

And finally, the Best Tweet: Kavya Kaushik  (“Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy. But here’s my policies. So vote Lib Dem maybe?”)

Overall, the weekend very helpful and a great opportunity to meet and befriend like-minded and interesting people. I feel it motivated delegates to get out and fight for the Party, teaching them the skills to do so and also helping to give them confidence to run for positions themselves. This event certainly helped to ensure that Liberal Youth’s focus will definitely be on much more than just Liberal Youth in the years to come.


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