The Birmingham special LibDem conference was pretty special. In a party that has always been (for lack of better terminology) left of centre – it was very life affirming to see that Liberal Democrats en mass got it. We all understood – not only that coalition with the Conservatives was the best and only game in town – but that you cannot believe in Proportional Representation which always results in balanced parliaments – and then say – don’t like them – not doing it.
Watching and listening to my colleagues, one by one, give heartfelt voice to their thoughts, their journeys and their concerns – was a very moving experience. And in the end – of around 2000 LibDems attending – only about 12 voted against.
One of the amendments to the motion for coalition was to reaffirm our commitment to the Lesbian, Gay, B and Trans communities – so obviously – I put a card in and spoke to that. I made it clear – to the delight of the assembled ranks – that there would be no roll back of equalities on my watch.
What was interesting though, is that I read out four manifesto commitments:
– Change the rules for gay people fleeing persecution to be granted asylum
– fight for unequivocal support for gay rights around the world, and use international groups like the Commonwealth to put pressure on countries to tackle persecution of LGB and T people
– change the law to remove the requirement to disclose historical convictions for consensual gay sex
– tackle homophobic bullying including a new category of exclusion data specifically for homophobic abuse
The shocking thing about the above four manifesto pledges above – is that they come from the Conservative manifesto – not ours!
I know there has been a lot of concern as to Theresa May’s track record on voting on LGB and T issues – and indeed a facebook group against her has already grown to around 50,000. She crucially voted the right way – for civil partnerships. And I believe that she and the Conservatives will use the opportunity of this coalition with us – to move forward. Time will tell. But it is easy in the Liberal Democrats to be liberal – Theresa has had a much harder road in the Conservatives to bring change. So I give her and the Conservatives the benefit of any doubt to be new Conservatives – shedding hopefully their old reputation – and moving into the light with us!
I think there is a genuine desire to work together and I go forward in good heart.