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Today is the start of Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, and is the third one I have been to, after last year's Autumn Conference is Liverpool and this year's Spring Conference in Sheffield.
Talk of the mood of the Conference in the press has been one of a standoff between the right-leaning Lib Dem Ministers and left-leaning membership, but this is not something I have seen to much of in the previous conferences. Certainly at Birmingham, the first since Coalition, Nick Clegg and other Ministers were warmly received. I know there was more difficulty at Sheffield over the NHS reforms, and the motion put forward by Shirley Williams and Evan Harris opposing large parts of the Bill, but this has brought about reform of the Bill, and allowed MPs to show opposition in a way they would have felt unable to before. Overall the mood of the Conference was still largely positive, I felt.
Flashpoints at this conference include once again the NHS, and welfare reform. But there are some more common liberal items on the agenda which, if passed, could prove interesting challenges to the Coalition as to how Lib Dems take them forward. The main one of these could be the legalisation of drugs for personal use, but also crucially for me reform of the prison service, sentencing, and getting to grips with repeat offenders and opportunities for those leaving prison in society. Taking un the mantle of the second half of Labour's promise on which they never materialised – being tough on the causes of crime. Some good noises were made on this at last year's Conference by Lord McNally, but I want to see these brought to the fore and demanded.
I'm going to try and blog through the Conference, although I may get sidetracked and forget.
Ta very much.