Political webcasting

I’ve got a piece on Liberal Review this morning about my experience trying out webcasting:

I’ve been a webcast guinea pig!

I was one of a trio of people who tried out doing a daily video diary / webcast / online film / call it what you will from the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton this year. The other two were our leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, and my friend Duncan Brack – who chairs the conference committee. We were also joined on various days by a few “special guests”, such as Paddy Ashdown who did one broadcast himself too. (Given Paddy’s well-known fondness for hi-tech gadgetry and his background, I was a bit disappointed to find he didn’t go round with his own live web-casting camera sown into a buttonhole!).

You can read the full piece here.

First day and a half at Brighton

Arrived Recording my conference webcastin Brighton for conference on Saturday and rushed for briefing by Ming. Then walk out to seafront on Ming’s right arm to greet the media. The media are interested in tax – are we giving up our much loved 50p policy? – and Charles – how will his speech on Tuesday go? Ming gave a good answer – ‘there will be no clapometer’ and he robustly defended parties having real debates on substantive issues without them being “high noon” for the leadership. It’s obviously not a competition and Charles is one of our stars so I expect Charles will lay out some ideas – at least that is what I hope, as that is one of his great strengths.

And lastly – top of the pops for media questions – is this conference a test of Ming’s leadership?

Well – every conference is a test of leadership. Ming will do a good job. He is very charming, intelligent and oozes integrity from every pore – but there’s no doubt that all eyes will be upon him. That’s leadership!

Both Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning see me and the rest of the Home Affairs Team (Nick Clegg and Mark Hunter) holding special sessions. The one on the Saturday with us as a team being there for our party members to question, raise issues, tell us the party’s policies and issues that they feel need addressing and inform us what they think of how the Home Affairs Team is doing!

Today’s session was a more formal consultation on the consultation paper on crime produced by the crime working group chaired by Graham Tope – my former London Assembly and Metropolitan Police Authority colleague. Crime and anti-social behaviour remain the key issues – not Labour’s endless headlines and talk about being tough, but for Lib Dems it’s what works that matters. Rhetoric doesn’t make out streets safer.

First thing this morning I did my first webcast from conference. This is a new ‘feature’ during the Lib Dem conference with daily feeds from Ming, Duncan Brack (Chair of Conference) and myself each doing a minute or two filming to go up on the party website so that members can have a taste of what each of us makes of what’s going on.

Party conference

Off to Liberal Democrat conference today! What do I expect – other than being very busy! Well – outside of the media terming us ‘economic’ or ‘social liberals’ – their favourite sport will be will Kennedy come back and will Ming be merciless, but what I hope is that we will debate and decide policies on a whole range of issues which really matter. And the Lib Dem conference debates are still real – speeches sway votes, decisions made are followed and outcomes aren’t fixed in advance.

The one that will hit the news is the tax debate. It will be termed as to whether we ‘lose’ our old plans for a 50p on higher taxes debate. As a long time fan of the 50p rate I have followed the plans pretty carefully that propose scrapping them. (There’s been a lively debate at the new LibDemVoice website which gives a good flavour of some of the issues).

First let it be said – that the new proposals and the old ones are both redistributive, fairer etc etc. But the new proposal lifts swathes of people out of tax altogether, is far more redistributive and begins the real shift from taxing good things (like work) to taxing bad things (like pollution).

We lose the totemic 50p higher rate – but we gain what I really want – which is a fairer system that without raising taxes redistributes the tax burden better and tackles climate change.

So I am intending to vote for the policy and against the amendment that proposes retention of another similar version of our 50p. Unless the debate changes my views: after all, I am a sentient human being and there would be no point in having the debate if one could not be persuaded by arguments as yet unthought of. I know – shock horror. Not rigid. Not whipped and capable of thinking for myself.

PS I am being one of the “guinea pigs” for a set of video diaries during conference, along with Ming Campbell and Conference Committee Chair, Duncan Brack. Will be interesting to see how this works – so watch this space!

Harrogate rally

Having got, finally, to Harrogate – I’m on as one of the main speaker at the evening rally.

The room was packed with probably about 400 or so delegates. I would love to think it was me they came to listen to – but I expect the attendance had more to do with the imminent speech of the new leader. I was the last speaker for the rally which was called ‘Meeting the Challenge’ and I was proposing a radical agenda on the inequalities that are widening under the Blair regime.

My speech goes down really well (if I say so myself)! But happily – lots of other people say so too! Then there was a couple of minutes from each of the most recent by-election winners – Mark Hunter, Willie Rennie and Sarah Teather. Duncan Brack, who is Chair of Conference Committee introduced one speaker thus:

‘There is an Australian rock musician called Mark Hunter. There is an American navel officer called William Rennie. But there is only one Sarah Teather!’

I thought that was witty!

And then the grand entry of our new leader. And Ming was on good form. He has seemed very happy and confident since his win. He reiterates the crusade against poverty and that he will arm our party with the campaigning tools we need to match the other parties. He is certainly saying all the right things.

I go back to my room and find a message on my phone from the Press Office to say that Question Time have bumped me off the program next Thursday in favour of Nick Clegg – as he is on the Ming team and therefore because of the result they want a Minger!

Then I go to dinner with the World This Weekend team, who have invited me, Paul Marshall and Michael Moore. It was really very pleasant evening. However, the snow and ice was vicious outside and I had to hang onto Brian Hanrahan all the way back for dear life!

Saturday in Southport

Have breakfast with the Kingston mob at Lib Dem conference in Southport. Includes Jenny Tonge who was to be speaking in a fringe that evening on Palestine. Since her outspoken statements on the plight of the Palestinians she has rarely been out of the headlines. We have a discussion around the issues – and I get the impression that she is bullish but defensive about her position on the issue and definitely not keen on Charles K since he sacked her from the front benches.

Dash over to Conference Hall to listen to debates. Vince Cable (shadow chancellor) gives excellent finance speech. Then I chair Navnit’s speech. Lord Navnit Dholakia is the President of the Liberal Democrats and (in the three times I have chaired for him) has never, ever run to time. I guess that is why he always gets the spot before lunch – so that if there is an overrun on his speech it runs into the lunch break rather than the scheduled program of debates!

Waiting to go on in the wings I have a chance to chat to Charles K. The Leader is always on stage for the Presidents’ speech. He congratulates me on our tremendous victory in the Stroud Green ward by-election (30% swing Labour to LibDem – LibDem gain). Not unnaturally, I ask after his health. He assures me he is fine now, but you can still see the after effects of the nasty stomach bug. Can’t stand the vultures gathering to see if will be able to get through his speech tomorrow.

Needless to say – Navnit’s ten minute slot extends to 25 minutes – 15 minutes over the session end. On finishing, I remind the audience that the map in their programs is wrong. It shows the Conference Hotel (where the lunchtime fringe meetings will take place) in entirely the wrong location. And no – it wasn’t the LibDems reproducing it wrongly – it was supplied by the Southport Tourist Office!

Duncan Brack (Chair of the Conference Committee and a good mate) comes up onto the stage at the end to have a chat and make arrangements to meet for dinner and comments on Navnit’s overrun – and I say, “yes – but I couldn’t stop him – you can’t stop the bloody president…’ at which point Duncan points out to me that I’ve left the microphone on and have just broadcast to not only the auditorium – but the exhibition halls too!

No doubt that cheers everyone up.

I run back to the hotel to speak at a fringe meeting on Young People and Transport and then drift back to the Conference hall for afternoon debates. The debate on euthanasia was one of the best I have ever heard. Stunning speeches, powerful emotions – on both sides. Although a supporter of euthanasia with living wills – I found myself swayed from one side to the other with the force of the debate. Fabulous. Had to leave before the vote to rush back to speak in another fringe.

This fringe was for the geek brigade. No offence – but if you are not into techno campaigning, you would not have understood a word of the second half of the meeting. Happily for me – I was there as the light entertainment part of the proceedings. Since coming runner-up in the Guardian Political Blog of the Year my fame has spread far and wide and

I have been invited to address LibDems Online about my blogging.

So I give the low down on blogging, my blog, the pitfalls (i.e. people now read what I have said about them and get offended) and encourage them all to engage with the populace. And as I said – the rest of the meeting was for advanced geeks in techno terms. I didn’t understand any of it – but they all seemed to enjoy themselves greatly.