Friday, 17 October 2014

Why should the anti-scientific sit on science committees?

Michael Mullaney: "strains on the NHS budget cannot be
resolved by treating serious illnesses with herbal remedies."
It seems rather absurd that I should have to make this obvious statement.

However, there appear to be those who take a different line.

Conservative health committee member David Tredinnick MP has this week suggested that the NHS should treat patients with herbal remedies, astrology and homeopathy in a quest to drive down costs.

He explained to Channel 4 News that "in some cultures astrology is part of healthcare because they need to have a voice and I've got up and said that...but I also think we can reduce the bill by using a whole range of alternative medicine including herbal medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy.
Tredinnick has estimated that five per cent of the NHS budget could be saved in this way, although what precise calculations he has used were not disclosed. He has previously expressed interest in allowing astrology to replace more "conventional" NHS treatments, telling the House of Commons in July
that "I am absolutely convinced that those who look at the map of the sky for the day that they were born and receive some professional guidance will find out a lot about themselves and it will make their lives easier."

The MP is known to be a long-term advocate of alternative medicine, although oddly enough is also a member of the all-party Science and Technology Committee. Fortunately Tredinnick's rather eccentric beliefs say more about himself than they do the Conservative Party, but it does raise questions as to why someone with such anti-scientific views is sitting on scientific committees.

I don't doubt Tredinnick's sincerity when he insists that "in future we [should] stop looking just at increasing the supply of drugs and consider the way that complementary and alternative medicine can reduce the demand for drugs, reduce pressures on the health service, increase patient satisfaction, and make everyone in this country happier." He clearly believes this. The difficulty I have is that when a serving member of Commons committees on health and science makes such statements, it is more than embarrassing for parliament and for the cause of evidence-led treatment. And, in this case, he's simply wrong.

I spent most of my adult life working in the NHS, including mental health services. I will not deny that there is a need for delivering holistic approaches towards patient care that take into account their personal and spiritual beliefs. There is also a need to facilitate better availability of treatments other than medication, especially in the field of mental health. The answer is not always to dispense more drugs. However, this is not based on some oddball plan to deliver costs reductions, but to create an NHS that is more responsive to patient need. Moreover, it is evidence-based and follows the lead of academic research looking at providing more preventative, rather than reactive, treatments.

The scientific basis for homeopathy is virtually non-existent and for Tredinnick's projected savings to be realised it would require "alternative medicine" not only to be effective but in demand by patients. I suspect that David Tredinnick has not spent 17 years of his life working within the NHS, so I hope he will trust my experience when I suggest that patients would be far "happier" if they were treated more quickly - and with greater dignity and respect - than they would if they were to be given an appointment with an astrological therapist.

NHS treatments should naturally continue to evolve and adapt, following scientific advances, to deliver the best possible care for patients. It is not so much Tredinnick's ridiculous call for herbs, homeopathy and horoscopes that I find offensive, but the fact that someone who is a member of both the Commons Health Committee and the Science and Technology Committee sees fit to make pronouncements that undermine scientific rigour and evidence-based approaches in favour of a personally held dogmatic stance.

It is true that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also has an unscientific belief in the powers of homeopathy, but his championing of alternative medicine stops there. Tredinnick's continuing missions to regulate Chinese herbalists (and in doing so give them professional recognition) and his often-quoted reference to the alleged fact that he knew of "a psychiatric hospital that doubled its staff at full-moon" (it is, of course, entirely untrue) suggest that perhaps it's time he was reigned in. Speeches in parliament referring to the "fact" that blood does not clot under a full moon hardly give him much credibility with which to speak on health issues.

As far as I know, Tredinnick has not yet given evidence of the role of werewolves in hypogycaemia or the connections between fairies and cerebro-vascular accidents, but there is as much evidence for these as there are his plethora of other health claims.

Rather odd and eccentric people are all good and well, and there is a place for them in public life, but for the Conservative Party to appoint someone with these views to committees of such responsibility seems either absurd or some kind of unfunny joke. Health and science are not laughing matters, and the aims of the respective committees should not be undermined by those sitting on them. It's like having the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sitting on a committee promoting atheistic humanism.

This naturally raises questions about how MPs are selected to serve on committees. As someone who is naturally pro-science and supportive of evidence-based approaches - especially on health issues - I find it an affront to democracy that while MPs are accountable to the public, committees are less directly accountable. Some serious rethinking of the relationship between committees, parliament and the civil service - and the way in which appointments are made - is overdue and patently necessary.

If the Conservatives are serious about keeping Bosworth, they perhaps should consider having a word with Tredinnick about his tendency to undermine scientific approaches from within the Science and Technology Committee. His contributions are becoming more unpredictable and unreasonable, and his appointment to these committees has seen an increase in such proclamations. Tredinnick has been the Conservative MP for Bosworth since 1987, but faced a tough challenge from Liberal Democrat Michael Mullaney in 2010 and his growing reputation as a pro-quackery eccentric is unlikely to help him.

Mullaney, who will again be conesting the seat in 2015, is understandably focused on his own constituency. ""People in Hinckley and Bosworth want an MP who will stand up for them on the important issues of jobs and services. Our current MP spends his time telling doctors not to operate on full moons, advising GPs to consult people's astrology charts when they come for treatments and suggests that scientists objecting to widespread use of Chinese Herbal medicines to cure serious illnesses are racially motivated."

Mullaney added: "At a time when the pressures facing the NHS are again under the spotlight, his answer to the strains on the NHS budget is to treat serious illness with herbal medicines and other ineffective and unproven methods. It's illogical.

"He has been MP for Bosworth for 27 years - this is far too long and it's about time he was thrown out by the voters next May!"

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Do Lord Freud's comments on disability highlight problem within Conservative Party?

Conservative welfare minister Lord Freud has apologised for suggesting that disabled people are "not worth" the national minimum wage and that some of them should be paid £2 per hour.

Such remarks show a staggering ignorance of disability, equality and economics.

Freud made the comments at a Conservative Party conference fringe meeting, but they only came to light today in a question at PMQs from Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Creating a multi-tier system of pay whereby people with disabilities are paid less would inevitably lead to exploitation and further discrimination.

In his apology, Freud insisted that he was responding to a questioner at the event, and that he "was foolish to accept the premise of the question. To be clear, all disabled people should be paid at least the minimum wage, without exception, and I accept that it is offensive to suggest anything else...I am profoundly sorry for any offence I have caused to any disabled people."

It is not merely disabled people he has offended, but all those who believe in a just society, and have a belief in fairness and equality of opportunity for those with disabilities. It is also offensive on an intellectual level, supposing that discriminating against some of the most vulnerable members of society can offer any positive economic solution. The use of words such as "the disabled" (suggesting a singular homogenous group) is a personal pet hate, but to follow this up with value judgments, using the language of "worth", is patently prejudicial and unbefitting of a government minister - let alone someone with responsibility for welfare.

In responding to Ed Miliband, David Cameron advised that "those are not the views of the Government. They are not the views of anyone in the Government." Sadly, until Freud either resigns or is sacked, he is entirely wrong.

I'm trying to imagine how such a thing could be said in a fringe meeting at any other party conference and escape howls of derision from attendees.  It's amazing that no-one questioned Freud at the time or took issue with his sentiments. Does this incident say more about Freud and his views, or the nature of the Conservative Party?

In spite of a supposed modernising agenda, prejudicial views towards some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of British society continue to be expressed - and even tolerated. If Ed Miliband hadn't questioned the Prime Minister today, we would - in all probability - have never known about Freud's misguided intervention. The Conservative Party appears to be caught in two minds, seeking to portray itself as progressive while failing to rid itself of destructive backward-looking social attitudes many of its members appear to be unwilling to surrender. This doesn't help those who want the party to move forward - and to be seen as more compassionate - and plays into the hands of opportunistic opponents.

It's not the first time he's courted controversy in this way either - in May 2013 he is reported as having suggested that people struggling with the "bedroom tax" could either find a job or buy a sofa-bed.

The problem is not simply Lord Freud - it is the Conservative Party. A party that is working so hard to outflank UKIP that a minister making such prejudicial comments at a conference fringe meeting makes absolutely zero impression on attendees. It's just part of the accepted narrative from a party that has delivered such discriminatory policies as the bedroom tax, introduced the near-criminal actions of Atos fitness tests and overseen cuts to the independent living fund. 

There was a time when the Conservative Party were anxious to rid themselves of the epithet "the nasty party". They're getting there...they now look like the "totally evil party".

Jeremy Browne MP resigns

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Jeremy Browne - looking decidedly
uncomfortable at Glee Club
Lib Dem MP Jeremy Browne has announced that he will not be contesting next year's General Election.

Browne currently represents Taunton Deane, and would have been defending a majority of 3,993. He has served as Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and , later, Minister of Crime Prevention in the Home Office.

Browne posted a statement on twitter this morning,which read: "After much deliberation I have decided not to contest Taunton Deane as the Liberal Democrat candidate at the 2015 General Election and to stand down as Member of Parliament at the end of this Parliament. By 2015 I will have been the Member of Parliament for Taunton Deane for ten years. That is generally long enough to do the same job. It is not my ambition to remain in Parliament until I retire. I have been very committed to the role and I have done it to the best of my ability. It is time to do something different. There is a world beyond politics full of opportunities and it will be exciting to explore it." He also added that he "will not be joining another political party and I have no intention to serve in any other capacity in politics."

Browne has been a controversial Liberal Democrat - principally on account of his reputation as the archetypal "Orange Booker". In April 2014, after being removed from his position as minister, he published "Race Plan", which he claimed was a call for “authentic, unadulterated liberalism” - "the coalition is on the right lines" he argued, "but it’s not going fast enough." He advocated rethinking how the NHS is funded, suggesting “there are issues about the ongoing affordability of the could have core services or emergency services funded directly by the state and otherwise an insurance scheme.”
This was always likely to create tension and fuel anger, but there should always be a place in a liberal party for those who think outside the box, who are not afraid to be controversial and who are brave enough to speak their mind. Unfortunately, Browne went much further than merely suggesting a rethink of the party's policy direction, turning on many members who he dismissed as reactionary socialists. His approach became unhelpfully combative. Speaking to The Times, he explained “it’s become part of the make-up of quite a lot of Lib Dems to support a cautious, conservative statism which is the opposite of what I think a bold authentic liberalism should be....some argue that the Lib Dems should promote socialism plus civil liberties, but that isn’t liberalism." Browne spoke of the need for "a bold, ambitious liberal party", but his understandings of liberalism were either misunderstood or rejected by many of his colleagues.
For Browne, the Lib Dems have become "ill-defined moderating centrist party", critical of the party's tactic of "being a brake [on Conservative policy] rather than an accelerator".
For some Lib Dems, Browne was a misunderstood reformer, seeking to re-establish radical liberalism at the heart of the party. For others, he was a false prophet whose misguided attempts to redefine the Lib Dems as "a responsible party of government" demonstrated a misunderstanding of the nature of modern liberalism, the party's identity and - moreover - its recent history. Both of these views contain some truth, but his apparent belief that the cause of centre-right liberalism was thwarted by merger with the Social Democrats highlighted the degree to which his appreciations of history were governed by his personal philosophy. He was also seen as being weak on immigration and civil liberties and a champion of unbridled market economics - criticisms with genuine merit.
Nick Clegg said of Browne's resignation: "Jeremy Browne has decided that now is the right time to announce he will not stand at the next election and the Liberal Democrats wish him all the best for the future.The Deputy Prime Minister regrets that he has taken the decision to leave politics as Jeremy has always had strongly held views which he expressed with great skill and conviction. Jeremy has been a tireless constituency MP to the people of Taunton and served in two important ministerial roles in the early part of this government."
Whether intentionally or otherwise, the "regret" expressed is on the part of the leader only, not "the Liberal Democrats". No doubt there will be many Lib Dems who are more than relieved at news of Browne's departure, believing that having a new candidate in place for Taunton Deane will actually increase the party's chances of retaining the seat and communicate more "on message" values. The timing of the announcement is unhelpful and, only seven months before the General Election, will no doubt be subject to the same questioning as his motivations for making it.

Personally, I'd have preferred Browne to have contested the seat in 2015 as incumbency may well have made the difference against a strong Conservative opponent, but is appears he has decided he no longer has a home here. I have never been persuaded by his arguments (although he often makes valid points along the way) but I think it is regrettable when those who think differently come to feel unwelcome in our party.

I last saw Jeremy Browne at Lib Dem conference last week, at the Glee Club - hanging around at the back, obviously detached from proceedings chatting with a couple of friends. This neatly encapsulated Browne's relationship with the party: present but disengaged; surrounded by passionate liberals whose hymnbooks he refused to share; looking decidedly uncomfortable and ill-at-ease among the party faithful. He looked as lonely a figure as he has often appeared of late - it was hard not to feel for him.

What Jeremy Browne's resignation does suggest is that he has given up on his self-appointed mission to "reset the political compass" of the Lib Dems. Perhaps we should be grateful that he at least tried, and that his brand of liberalism and distorted view of the party's identity has been unquestionably defeated - but I can't quite get myself to take any joy from this. Instead I think how much his talents could have been used to increase our party's appeal if they'd have been more effectively harnessed, or if he'd chosen to work to unite the party rather than write centre-right polemic and bowl bouncers at the Social Liberal Forum.

Monday, 13 October 2014

SNP v UKIP - which is likely to emerge on top?

Both the SNP and UKIP are poised to target the same seats in Scotland's central belt for the 2015 General Election.

UKIP's David Coburn has confirmed his party intends to challenge for "rust belt" seats in Scotland - traditional Labour heartlands where once-industrial towns are no longer home to industry, and where many of the most disaffected and disenfranchised members of society live.

Coburn is considering standing himself against Tom Clarke in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill where he hopes to overturn a Labour majority of over 20,000.  He believes he can be successful, and has stated that areas such as North Lanarkshire have been taken for granted by Labour for generations, with "Labour politicians seeing themselves as feudal lords."

Clearly UKIP believe they can tap into the working-class vote and indeed are intentionally developing a strategy to do so, as I suggested yesterday. Those who are disenfranchised, cynical towards politics generally and from lower socio-economic backgrounds are deemed to be likely to be attracted to UKIP's populist and uncompromising messages.

One problem for UKIP, however, is that their strategy also accords with that of the SNP. What was made clear in the recent independence referendum was not only that voters in areas such as North Lanarkshire, Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire and Renfrewshire are unhappy with the Scottish Labour Party, but that they were far more likely to support independence than voters elsewhere across Scotland. This has informed the SNP's thinking going into the General Election.

It has been well documented that, in the aftermath of the independence referendum, the SNP's membership has increased from 25,500 to 80,000. Less well-known is the fact that, in Motherwell and Coatbridge - areas very definitely inside UKIP's "rust belt" - membership has increased six-fold. The SNP sense that they can make a significant breakthrough in areas of traditional Labour support in 2015, with Derek Mackay telling The Herald that "the Labour Party's position in Scotland is growing increasingly precarious. The referendum unleashed a new spirit of democratic engagement and participation among the people of Scotland, and these people simply won't accept the same old politics as usual from Westminster." Clearly UKIP agrees, at least in respect to the initial observation.

No doubt both UKIP interest and the SNP's apparent strategy of focusing on Labour weakness in West and Central Scotland will be of concern to Scottish Labour. The big question is which of the two would-be inheritors of Labour's historic fiefdoms is most likely to emerge victorious.

UKIP may be correct in their assertions that Labour is struggling in its one-time Scottish strongholds. However, they may well have over-estimated their chances by discounting the popularity and credibility of the SNP and its ministers. Who do voters in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill trust most - the SNP or UKIP? Alex Salmond or Nigel Farage? David Coburn or Nicola Sturgeon? Ultimately how people vote is based on who people trust, and who they find most credible.

I wouldn't be surprised if UKIP does make some impact on some of these key Scottish seats next year, and I also wouldn't be surprised at a few Labour losses. However, the SNP are far more adept and experienced than UKIP at tapping into public dissatisfaction and providing hope to disenfranchised voters. They know how to connect. They understand how to translate dissatisfaction into votes, as they did so successfully in 2011. They do what UKIP would like to do, exploiting discontent and resentment for electoral purposes...only more effectively. The SNP has the experience, the knowledge of these areas, dedicated party activists and established local campaigning networks that UKIP lacks.

SNP v UKIP? I'd predict a home win.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Have "soulless parties" made way for UKIP?

The Guardian's Owen Jones certainly thinks so.

Writing today, he describes how "two rootless, soulless parties have cleared the way for UKIP."

It's a piece worth reading, and Jones does write well. But his conclusions are simplistic, hampered by his inability to escape from the culture of blaming others for the rise of UKIP. His observations are particualrly dangerous because they contain a grain of truth.

He begins by suggesting that "UKIP talks of breaking the 'political cartel' while peddling policies the entire political elite agree on, quibbling only on scale and detail: tax cuts for the rich, privatisation, slash-and-burn austerity, curtailing workers’ rights." Clearly he hasn't been to Lib Dem conference. Or been listening to the SNP (who, being a majority government, must count as elite). Or even listening to what Labour are saying recently, however confused their messages of late.

Aside from sweeping generalisations, Jones does have some interesting things to say.  He points out that "Britain’s political elite has fuelled more than enough disillusionment for enterprising charlatans to exploit. Yes, there are honourable exceptions, but it has been abundantly clear what the political elite has been becoming for quite some time. Technocratic, rootless, soulless; a professionalised morass of time-servers who see ministerial posts as springboards to nice little earners on corporate boards; manoeuvring constantly not on the basis of political principle but for shameless self-advancement." It's powerful stuff, and he hasn't finished there. He bemoans the rootlessness of the Tories - and their fall from the high point of 3million members in 1950, rooted in a popular conservatism that “embrace[d] all classes and all creeds except atheists and enemies of the British empire” - while also bemoaning how the decline of trade union strength has resulted in Labour membership plummetting.

I am not entirely sure why Jones is so averse to the continuing evolution of political parties. Why should anyone want the Conservative party to be "rooted" to a now defunct philosophy? Why would anyone, even a trade unionist like myself, want a return to the days when the unions were disproportionately powerful? The "rootlessness" argument is not entirely without merit, but it omits to engage with the wider issue of what "being rooted" means in political terms. It should not mean a fondness for the doctrinal, a state of paralysis caused by unwillingness to adapt, or indeed an inability to speak to people from all backgrounds.

Jones then goes off to rewrite history, citing people such as Tony Benn and Barbara Castle as prime examples of what politicians once were before "professionalisation" crept in. I have much admiration for those two individuals, but to suggest they were not career-minded people is well short of the mark. Castle was a formidable figure and made a huge contribution to British politics - but let's also face the facts: she never worked in anything but politics, she was Oxford educated, and had one of the safest seats in the country. Tony Benn's ambitions can speak for themselves.

It is a shame that Jones falls into the misguided socialist thinking on the working class vote. It is the growth of individualism, and the "smothering of the unions" that has led to political parties being seized by career politicians, he states. This has led to "the Tory and Labour parliamentary parties [becoming]so stuffed full of people who can’t even do a rough impression of speaking like a human being...we end up with a Labour leadership unable to offer anything resembling a coherent, inspiring alternative expressed in a language people can relate to."

There are some valid observations, but Owen Jones is as much a careerist as any of those he seeks to criticise. He also fails to recognise that it is the relentless media obsession with UKIP, rather than the failure of Labour, that is chiefly responsible for working-class people turning to UKIP. He doesn't, for example, explain why the Greens or the Scottish Socialist Party are not more natural repositories for the votes of one-time Labour supporters

The fact is that working-class people are not particularly inclined to vote Labour. They are far more socially conservative than the intellectual left has always liked to believe for ideological reasons. In truth, they are far more likely to vote for other parties than are the comfortable middle-classes to vote anything but Tory. Who was it who supported Enoch Powell? Who voted for Thatcher in their hundreds of thousands after the Falklands War and council house sell-off? Farage's refusal to support marriage equality is not accidental, but part of a deliberate plan to cultivate the support of a particular section of society.

There is something of an anti-Westminster theme at the moment, but it is not anti-politics. And the beneficiaries of it are UKIP (mainly ex-Tory, public-school educated) who have no particular love for the British working class, and certainly aren't taking British politics back to a world before the professional politician. Quite the opposite - they are the uber-professionals, disguising their establishment credentials while cynically playing all the populist cards.

People are voting UKIP for various reasons, but it's not because they're longing for a more authentic socialist voice. The unpalatable truth is that neither of the major parties (including the Greens and the SNP) are (rightly) willing to run with an aggressive anti-immigration or anti-multiculturalism message - it's this that clears the way for UKIP, not the professionalisation of politics. This has happened in the past when mainstream parties refuse to play the populist card - even in those golden pre-professional days of the 1930s, Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists had over 50,000 members and was able to terrify the establishment (supported as it was by the Daily Mirror).

Like Jones, I deplore the rise of the professional politician almost as much as I do the rise of UKIP. But blaming the latter on the former is patently wrong: there are more sophisticated and complex reasons why UKIP are able to appeal to large sections of British society.

It is not the lack of roots that turns people towards UKIP (which itself has few roots, except in a view of a historical England that never actually existed other than in the minds of right-wing nostalgics); neither is it the demise of Empire or the decreasing power of the Unions (that would have destroyed Labour if left to their own devices, as Barbara Castle understood only too well). Perhaps if Jones took off his left-wing blinkers, and realised that working-class people are not and never have been intrinsically inclined towards socialism, he might more adequately recognise UKIP's popularity for what it is - the inevitable reaction of the conservatively-minded to a cleverly crafted conservative message. 

Jones is guilty of a sentimental rewriting not only of history but of the current political situation, that is as mawkish and misguided as anything UKIP have produced. UKIP's standing with the public is not due to anyone's failure as much as it is the product of an intelligent and well-executed strategy.

UKIP's Roger Helmer calls for privacy

UKIP MEP Roger Helmer has today called for "privacy" after being photographed entering a massage parlour.

The parliamentarian, who has claimed that extending marriage to same-sex couples "undermines" and demeans it, was reported as having visited the massage parlour by The Sun. Several other newspapers have since published the story.

Helmer has not denied that he has used the services at Victoria House - whose motto is "driving men wild since 1999" - but insists that "it’s not something I’m terribly keen for anyone to get any mileage out of. MEPs are entitled to a private life. I work extremely hard...I hope my constituents will agree people are entitled to enjoy their leisure time as they please."

Personally, I'm not overly worried what parliamentarians do in their time away from work. He is entitled to enjoy his leisure time as he pleases. However, as a moral crusader railing against the "undermining of marriage" I do wonder how married men making use of such facilities actually strengthens the institution he claims to care passionately for.

I also wonder if Mrs Helmer feels her marriage is more "undermined" by same-sex couples having the right to celebrate their love in legal union as it is her husband seeking out the services of Victoria House's scantily-clad masseuses? Obviously it's an issue between them, but I suspect she might have some words for him today.

It's certainly something I wouldn't try to make capital from...but I do find it interesting that Mr Helmer is so keen to argue that "everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life". That's VERY familiar - haven't I heard that somewhere before?

Indeed I have- it's a direct quote from Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

UKIP MEPs invoking the ECHR in self-defence - whatever next?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Personal Highlights of Lib Dem Conference 2014

Xanthe at Glee Club, reading what we think of Tony Blair
While present at conference this year my involvement was rather limited due to having my 2 year old daughter, Xanthe, with me. (I think she enjoyed her first conference of many...)

However, I was able to attend the key debates and speeches, even give a speech myself, and speak to old and new friends. Most importantly, I was able to gauge the mood of the party at what is a crucial moment in its history, and was surprised by the general positivity.

My reflections on conference itself, and what it says about our party, will be coming later. For now, here's a list of my personal highlights of an eventful conference.

Danny Alexander's speech. News arrived by text message that Danny was making a speech. Even more surprising was that the speech was said to be quite good. I arrived quickly and found that Danny was indeed giving the speech of his life, hitting all the right spots, exchanging his usual wordy, sensible but generally uninspiring oratory for something more energising and rousing. Gone was his usual defensiveness, replaced by criticism, anger and even some emotion. He even managed to come across as human rather than conform to the image of the Bevanite "dessicated calculating machine". No doubt the speech had been heavily managed and rehearsed, but it was far and away the best speech Danny has ever given.

Xanthe's first TV interview. Xanthe might be only 2 years old, but she's already in training for a media career. Xanthe and I were interviewed by Good Morning Britain, explaining the benefits of Lib Dem policy on childcare. This was shamefully cut to a few seconds when aired, but it was Xanthe's first TV appearance. (Asked what should be important issues going into next year's election, Xanthe shouted "Mummy and Daddy!")

Some positive dialogue on federalism. At last! The referendum we never wanted and indeed vociferously opposed has yielded the best opportunity in generations to pursue something at least resembling a federalist arrangement for the UK. Who'd have thought it? An emergency motion on the UK's constitutional future demonstrated the Lib Dems' commitment to further empowering Scotland and to dealing (at last) with the issue of English devolution.  It was exciting stuff - some Lib Dems even suggested that the SNP were not our enemy! Unfortunately there still seem many who don't quite grasp the difference between federalism and devolution, but we finally seem to have the "f-word" back on the political agenda.

Glee Club. OK, so we know the Daily Mail hates it and many people just don't get it. No problem. Some of us like to laugh at ourselves (and others). Paddy delivered his predictable annual joke, which is now funny because it is so unfunny. I don't really see what's not to like about Glee Club - the social aspect, the extraordinary vocals, Stephen Glenn in a kilt, the hilarious lyrics and the general's pure dead brilliant, sure it is! Xanthe thought so anyway, although I'm not sure she really understood "Losing Deposits".

The football motion. "Reclaiming the people's game" was probably the most poorly constructed motion I've ever seen at federal conference, but its aims were laudable. The problem with it was that it simply had not been written by anyone with experience of running a football club. Or indeed, of women's football. But it was daring to go where no other party has, it dared to criticise the FA in particular, and it made some very progressive and welcome recommendations in relation to facilitating diversity. I made my own intervention on this point, highlighting positive moves within the game while demonstrating the need for a change of culture which the measures within the motion could certainly contribute to achieving. Without doubt the direction of the policy is the right one, and it gave me a rare opportunity to combine my twin passions of football and politics.

Jo Swinson's speech. Another speech to hit all the right notes. Confident and not afraid to be critical of our coalition partners (a common theme this week). Focused largely on the achievement of facilitating more flexible working and shared parental leave in the face of Tory opposition.

The emphasis on tackling climate change. I felt the 2010 manifesto was not sufficiently green - at least this has been recognised and the new green strategy is much more effectively "joined up", with a renewed emphasis on protecting nature and longer-term planning. Actually, we've finally "embraced" climate change as a reality and are looking at effectively adapting to its impacts - Labour and Tories take note.

Nick Clegg's speech. In truth, not so much Nick's speech itself as the emphasis he placed on mental health. On a day when the BBC news was talking about UKIP, the Deputy Prime Minister was more concerned in taking action to ensure mental health's parity of esteem with physical well-being. As someone who has waited just over a year for supposedly urgent counselling, I have first-hand experience of how the system often fails those with mental health needs (who are also often society's most vulnerable members). The measures proposed obviously don't apply to Scotland, but Nick was right to place mental health firmly on the political agenda and sets down a marker for the Scottish government.

Kirsty Williams. Wow. Just wow. Sadly as a Welsh AM she will never be leader of the federal party.

The debate on expanding opportunity and unlocking potential. Focused on addressing inequalities in health and opportunity, it dealt with a number of legal arrangements that continue to work against diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, Evan Harris's amendment, proposing to end religious selection by faith schools, was not carried - although it would probably merit a motion in its own right.

And the lowlight...the presidential election. If you're not a Lib Dem, you probably don't know that there will soon be an election for the President of our party. In fact, even if you are a Lib Dem I'm not sure you'd know. I believe there were presidential hustings timetabled but they were at such times as to be irrelevant (i.e. 10am on the Saturday morning, before conference had actually started). There was no buzz about the presidential race as there had been in 2010, no real sense of excitement, and it all seemed rather underwhelming. On the plus side, I now know how I'm voting (largely by deciding who I'm not voting for) but, aside from people's I've never met before asking me to sign nominations for people without giving any explanation as to why I should, the fact that an election is pending was hardly evident.