Speaking at the Conference

Anyone in the UK who has been following the news – and I suspect that’s a small number of people because if you’re not involved yourself, I don’t blame you if you’re sick to death of politics by now – will know there’s been a LibDem conference this weekend. I’ll point out the usual that’s been pointed out by many others before me now, which is that despite the best efforts of the press to portray the party as split over the deal it’s not. There is concern and trepidation about what might come to pass but we’ve got a good deal out of it and most people there recognised that.

Zoe O'Connell speaking at the Lib Dem's Special ConferenceBut the reason for my post is that I stood up to talk in an “intervention” slot. 30 people (Picked randomly from 110 who put their names down, so I was lucky) got to stand up to speak from the floor for 60 seconds. Those that have met me will know that I’m not great with social situations but for some reason, standing up in front of an audience of 2000 people that includes government ministers and the Deputy Prime Minister didn’t at the time seem like such a big deal. Despite the microphones and lights and cameras and being projected on a huge screen it’s oddly somehow more impersonal than knocking on the door of some stranger you’ll probably never see again and asking who they’re going to vote for. This is completely at odds with , who is supremely confident socially but thought standing up to talk was too much!

On to the reason I stood to talk. As with most people who stood up, it wasn’t to acclaim nor oppose the motion, but to make a point about policy that risked getting overlooked and in my case it was equality. Here’s what I said: (Emphasis is from my notes, so that I could emphasise the appropriate words when speaking)

Equality. It should not be a dirty word. It is a word we have heard here today when the press are not present, yet it does not appear in the coalition document. I do not have easy access to statistics on LGBT, ethnic and other power minorities being represented in the new parliament but certainly in terms of women, we are now third in equality behind the Conservatives.

It is unfortunate that much of the good effort in this area did not bear fruit on May 5th but against a possibly, in equality terms, dark background of a conservative-lead government, should we not lead from the front more in terms of public voice and policy rather than silently reinforcing a typically conservative and, as Lynne Featherstone said, “Male and Pale” cabinet and agenda.

Did it make a difference? I hope so, but sadly I don’t think people pay too much attention to the intervention speakers in general. You only get 60 seconds and you’re speaking from the floor, not the stage. This seems to make a difference in terms of how the audience view you, despite the fact that everyone looks as you on a huge screen in front of them rather than having to turn round to see you.

I’m not sure how I came across as I’m not used to public speaking and unfortunately it’s unlikely there’s any video. However, a couple of people did come up to me afterwards with positive comments particularly as I was one of the very few speakers who did not run over their 60 seconds and need to be cut short by the chair. We’d already had a DELGA representative propose an amendment to the motion reaffirm LGBT support plus Lynne Featherstone and the vice-chair of the Gender Equality group within the party speak on, unsurprisingly, gender equality in the parliamentary party.

What did strike me however was that I was the only speaker who pointed out that tackled equality as a whole and spoke for the fact we need to be more vocal publicly about it. The other speakers just mentioned their own area of concern and wanted to “reaffirm their commitment” to it rather than stating we need to, as politicans would have it, “get the message out there”. (Does the fact I spoke at a conference make me a politician now?)

I’d been offered the chance by Belinda Brooks-Gordon to be introduced to Lynne Featherstone after the conference but unfortunately there wasn’t much chance of finding people in the crowd. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to be meet to her soon as she could be a very interesting and useful person to know.

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