I'm not going to Lib Dem conference this year in Brighton.
I love conference. And I love Brighton. But I'm going to give conference a miss this year and it seems many others are too.
Part of the attraction of conference, for me at least, is the opportunity that it presents for meeting and interacting with fellow liberals. Connecting with others in a way that ordinarily I wouldn't be able to is something I value highly, and I've met many of my friends at conference while for some of my other friends conference provides a rare chance to get together.
Conference is also useful in that it allows someone like me from a small town that no-one outside of Inverclyde has ever heard of the opportunity to see something of the wider political picture, to contribute to discussion and perhaps even question ministers.
This time round, however, many of my friends are not going. I've asked some of them why and they have wildly different reasons. For some, the agenda is completely unexciting and lacking in ambition (sorry to be cavalier folks, but there's a pretty obvious solution to that one). Others feel that while our conference is the most democratic of the three major parties', that is pretty irrelevant when ministers choose to ignore policy decisions made by the membership. Some understandably aren't too impressed with the intense security checks. Another feels Nick Clegg has lost credibility and that the leadership are becoming more and more detached from both the realities on the ground and the concerns of party activists. I've also been told that the leadership don't "get" either Scotland or the North of England, so having a conference in Brighton is bound to make the event more South-centric. More concerning are the views of those who feel that conference is now just a pointless stage-managed political and media circus, as also are those of others who think that it is being hi-jacked by various "factions" within the party. Certainly the emergence of different strands within the party should be a positive thing and something I would naturally welcome as a means of facilitating diversity, but the arrogance of some of these groups in combination with ill-disguised hostility towards the others does not make for pleasant viewing. Lib Dems will know exactly what I mean. It doesn't make for a positive, uplifting conference or do much to present a united front.
I understand all these concerns. I even share some of them. But being the kind of person I am I'd still go to conference if I could - I'd even go to other parties' conferences if they'd let me in! I'm going to really hate watching proceedings on the TV but this year I'm going to have to. For one very simple reason.
I can't afford it.
I really don't have the finances to take a week off work (being self-employed) and to spend money I don't have on travel and accommodation. I've had to ask whether my political obsession and incurable love for conference is worth making the sacrifice. I decided it was. My better half however took a different line and I have to concede that this was one argument I knew I wasn't going to win. I simply can't justify it.
I don't think there could be much further away from Kilmacolm that the party could hold its conference. The expense is significant but the time spent travelling is also a huge consideration especially when you have a new baby. It's not simply a factor for those fortunate enough to be new parents though - from what I gather there are no other representatives from Inverclyde going down this year and I suspect that is also true of many other Scottish constituencies.
So - that's why you won't be seeing me at conference this year. No doubt you were expecting a rant about why I've given up on the party or why I think conference has become irrelevant in respect to meeting the needs of party members. The truth is that I'd love to be catching up with old acquaintances and making new ones, maybe again contributing to debates or perhaps even managing to ask Nick Clegg a hard question but it's not worth making an 800 mile round trip and incurring significant expense to do it.
I'd hope that Federal Conference Committee would have considered the difficulties many members have in attending and would have looked for means of remedying them - most obviously, from the point of view of democratic participation, electronic voting via the internet. However, given that we don't seem to be seriously considering facilitating such a revolutionary move, I'll just have to look forward to Glasgow next year. See you all then!