Local people, local power, local change - can the Lib Dems deliver?
Posted Friday 24 September 2010
Traditionally, the Liberal Democrat conference has been an excellent place to start the Party Conference season. Security was low key, delegates warm and friendly with a hint of the hippy tradition. Media coverage was relatively light and it could easily fall off the agenda if something more exciting happened.
That was then. The Lib Dems are now a party of government, so this conference was quite unlike any I’ve been to before. Security was tightened up, there seemed to be far more people in suits with only the occasional glimpse of the traditional sandal, and when I walked past Huw Edwards, I realised that the Lib Dems' moment has definitely arrived.
Fortunately one thing that hasn’t changed is the party’s interest and commitment to mental health. Previous conferences have had motions on mental health, and MPs and Peers have always been receptive to issues about mental health. I believe it’s good news that the Mental Health Minister is Paul Burstow, who we met at Conference. He will lead the forthcoming mental health strategy and was receptive to our messages which I set out in last week’s blog.
Nick Clegg’s speech was also interesting. I sat in the main hall to hear him – he was well received by a party which hasn’t tasted government for a very long time and is slowly getting used to the idea. His message about “local people, local power, local change” is an important one. We know from our own network of local Mind associations that locally led and delivered services make a difference.
Other conference highlights included the colourful Bob Russell proving that the Lib Dems will always encourage debate, delegates talking about the importance of protecting the vulnerable in the upcoming cuts, politicians finally talking about the damaging effect some of the rhetoric around welfare has been for people on benefits, and Liverpool proving itself an excellent Conference venue.
So the bandwagon moves on to Manchester and the Labour Conference. We'll be offering a stress test to all delegates to get them talking about our campaign for better mental health at work – come visit us at stand 74 if you're there! We'll also be pressing Labour politicians and the new leader to make sure mental health is a key priority for them as the expected cuts start to take effect after the upcoming Government's spending review.
What else should we be talking about at Conference? Who will win the leadership contest? Will Blair’s diaries outsell Mandelson’s at the book stands? Leave your answers in the comments!
Paul Farmer is Mind's Chief Executive
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