Wednesday 23 September 2015

Reflections on conference from afar

I may not have been in Bournemouth (starting a new job after months of subsidence living) for this Autumn's Liberal Democrat conference. But the bits I saw on TV before heading to work have been encouraging.

On the night after the General Election I wrote:

"I know our party will come back strong again because the essence of what we believe in does bring about fairness and opportunity for everyone. It may be a few election cycles, a few years or even a few months before voters realise this. David Cameron and his unfettered Conservatives could well be the ideal recruiter of people to the Liberal Democrat's way of thinking."

Little did I, nor anyone else envision just what sort of shape that becoming strong again would be. I listened to many of those new members stepping up unto the platform making liberal contributions from the stage in debates. I've seen many of them filling the hall for every session. Although as a constitutional geek I'm sad to yet again have missed a successful  move to next business, I'll be pencilling in 2031 as a conference to remain in the hall at all times.

A few days after the General Election I went on to write:

"Our fight back is important because our core values are important to the general public. I believe they will soon realise this as the Tories start to dismantle freedoms, undo fairness and take people for granted. The very people that Liberal Democrats feel should not be enslaved by ignorance, poverty or conformity."

Therefore the reflection that these two thoughts have become two of the key thoughts of the party, two of the key themes of the leader's speech this afternoon, shows what it means to be liberal to the core. These are the instinctive motives that we wanted to express in our darkest hour in early May. It is what this conference was about and many of the motions reflected our ideals, many of the speeches showed this was deeply felt.

The time is right to stand up and be liberal. There are many out there who are shocked by the attitudes of David Cameron and the swings and roundabouts of the Labour party depending on the nature of the leader. Yet the Liberal Democrats no matter who is in charge are a voice of the people, because the people who make our decision on policy are not those in the Westminster bubble but the people from Cornwall to the Northern Isles, from the Wash to Cardigan Bay and all points in between.

See you all in York in Spring.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Lost for (foreign) words at University of Ulster decision

As many of you will know I'm not gifted in languages, not that this doesn't stop me trying to learn some. The one I found easiest out of all the ones I have settled down to try and learn was Spanish. However, I do not that I am at a comparative disadvantage to those who do possess language skills. This is something that really struck home when I worked in a multi-lingual call centre environment, where people were able to take calls fluently in their second, third or even fourth languages.

Therefore the news that the University of Ulster has deemed it wise that as part of their cuts will include the modern language school at the Coleraine campus seems to me the most backward and ill-thought out of the consequences of their reduced budget.

We are constantly hearing that Northern Ireland needs to reach out for inward investment. But by reducing the number of spaces for modern language courses in Northern Ireland, leaving only the Queen's language school offering degrees, will lead to a skills exodus as Northern Ireland's language scholars will go elsewhere to either do a straight language course or one combined with business or other courses. Most of these students of course will never return, or maybe not return straight away meaning that where our business opportunity need people with language skills to bring in that foreign investment we will be falling behind.

The economic knock back of losing the language school at Coleraine is something that will impact on Northern Ireland. So while the current intake of language students there will be the last before the school is wound down we need action to make Northern Ireland remain attractive to investors from wherever utilising all the skills, especially those of language that we are required to be active in some of those markets where Spanish, German, French, Chinese or whatever are advantageous.