The mood at this year’s Welsh Liberal Democrat Spring Conference was surprisingly optimistic, with contributions to Policy Motions suggesting that the Party’s members are united behind proposals for their 2016 Manifesto. However, there was recognition, most notably expressed by Kirsty Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire)(LD), that the Party has an almighty battle on its hands to engage with and win over voters before 5th May. So focused were members on this task that they barely batted an eyelid at the giant squirrel that had taken to strolling around the Conference exhibition area.
[But in the interests of full information, your fearless reporter introduced herself to said woodland creature to discover his name was Bob and he was encouraging passers by to #votebob. You can read more about his agenda here.- Ed]
A common theme of the Conference speeches was condemnation of the Welsh Labour Government’s “17 years of failure.” Eluned Parrott (South Wales Central)(LD) set the tone in the Conference’s opening speech by accusing the Welsh Government of leaving people behind, even in times of economic growth.
In her keynote speech, Kirsty Williams lamented that her dreams for devolution in Wales have been mishandled by Welsh Labour. Lib Dem members were only too eager to expand on this theme when debating Policy Motions.
A wide range of policies and pledges were discussed, especially in the areas of health, economic development, education and housing. Speakers congratulated the Party’s 5 AMs over their impact in the Assembly, with the introduction of the Pupil Premium and Kirsty Williams’ soon-to-be-passed Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Bill coming in for particular praise. Headline policies included commitments to build more affordable housing, more than double the number of apprenticeships and establish a Welsh Development Bank for small businesses. One member quipped that he expected many of these policies to be stolen by Labour and the Conservatives in due course.
The highlight of Conference was Saturday’s speech by UK Liberal Democrat Leader (Tim Farron). Bouncing onto the stage to rapturous applause, Mr Farron used much of his speech to criticise the Prime Minister (David Cameron)’s handling of the EU Referendum, Syrian refugee crisis and flooding. He also strongly condemned the Conservatives for turning their back on the green agenda, declaring that it would be “utter madness” for the Conservative Party to withdraw investment from the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project and the renewable energy sector in general. No doubt the giant squirrel approved.
The prospect of another C-word (coalition) post-May was not mentioned. The Lib Dems clearly intend to concentrate on retaining and winning seats rather than speculating over red lines. Tim Farron threw down the gauntlet to Welsh Labour and the First Minister (Carwyn Jones), warning: “we know how to take you down.” Strong words, but even the most optimistic Liberal Democrat will be well aware that the Assembly elections represent the biggest test yet for the #LibDemFightback.
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