My first ever Liberal Democrat Conference taught me that we are all social liberals. No, I’m not talking about the supposed great divide between social liberals and classical liberals and God knows what else. I’m talking about the fact that a party member can turn up at Conference, not really knowing anyone, and by the end of the five intense days of liberalism that person can walk away having made some awesome friends and with as many good memories in tow as they have free pens from all the stalls.
And you know why? Liberals are damn social types. Everyone is up to having a laugh with you, be it the newest member who’s yet to push a single soggy Focus through a letterbox (bless) or any of our parliamentarians. No-one cares how long you’ve been in the party, just that you are now and that’s awesome. If you wanted to head to a debate or Q&A session in the main hall then there’d be people up for coming with you. If you just wanted to hang out at the Liberal Youth stall and chat then there were always people there to chill with. If you wanted to grab a drink, watch a movie at the cinema, share a beer tower, mess about on the beach at 3am… well, there were people up for all those things too, and probably whatever else you fancied. There were enough liberals there to lead a pretty varied social life for the five days, but not so many that you ended up constantly surrounded with people you didn’t recognise.
Anyone who’s been involved with Liberal Youth (either serving on the exec, a committee, a regional or branch chair or just as an enthusiastic member) will know that we’ve been able to organise some fantastic things together by using modern communication, but nothing really beats meeting these people in person. It’s weird as well in the way that even if you only met some of these people a few months or even days ago, by the end of the conference you end up feeling like you’ve known them years, and judging by the conversation on the train home, it’s not unusual to feel this way about your new liberal mates.
One of our Councillors was eating breakfast with a few of us one morning and he said that he remembered his first Conference in the 80s (I think – apologies if not, mate!) and the people he met there were the people who became his good friend, the ones he continued to see and spend time with at every conference since. It got me thinking about how sad it will be to keep seeing Conor McKenzie year after year (nah, just kidding Conor!), but that it’ll rock to see other people. I don’t know if I’ll still be a party member in five or ten years time, but I do know that I met, or saw again, people at that conference who I genuinely hope and intend to keep in contact with, even if I or they aren’t Lib Dems at some point in the future. There were some really great people at that liberal conference who I would probably never have got the chance to meet if I hadn’t been a Liberal Democrat, so for that reason alone (although I have many others of course!) I’ll never regret joining.
Cheers to all who made me laugh, think and just really enjoy my first conference. Here’s to many more to come.
Ab Brightman is a member of Liberal Youth’s International Committee and is the South Central Regional Chair. Ab is currently in her last year of sixth form in Bedfordshire and intends to study philosophy and international relations at university. She enjoys campaigning for human rights, writing music and having really stimulating conversations. Her gaydar is her superpower.
Hang out with her on twitter @AbBrightman.
This article is solely the view of the author and not of the Liberal Democrat party, Liberal Youth, nor the editorship of the Libertine. We all think Conference is pretty awesome though.