Picture the scene, a hall full of people (lets say 150 people - feel free to correct me), some music reminiscent of Rocky Balboa and a slideshow of Kirsty Williams doing her thing: Kirsty with some students, Kirsty at a hospital, Kirsty on the farm (you get the idea). The tension grows, which door will she emerge from?
To a rapturous reception the new leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats strides into the hall ready to deliver her first speech to the party faithful. If you didn’t already know, the introduction was making it painfully clear that the Lib Dems have a new leader and a new image. (So keen to impress this upon us there was an absence of a certain Mike German)
So with everyone ready, the room falls silent waiting for the messages to come - blow by blow. So what do we get, a new direction? Some new policies? Anything new? Something original?
Not so much, what we get is a speech that tells us “liberal principles are the answer to Wales' problems”. Now correct me if I’m wrong but haven’ t the Lib Dems been telling us this for a while now? So much for the new direction.
I may be over egging the pudding a little here but the point I’m trying to make is that throughout the weekend everyone was talking about Kirsty Williams' first conference, about her first speech. There was a feeling of a new direction, a new start for the party in Wales. Coupled with an introduction that was dramatically over the top, fireworks were expected. After all this, to then be told exactly the same thing that we have been told for the past however many years was a little anticlimactic.
The whole event felt a little staged, I wrote on my notepad that it was very “Eisteddfodol”, which some of you may understand. This feeling came from the dramatics at the start, the wooden pleasantries, the communications director giving signals from the back of the room and a tone of voice that was more akin to someone addressing a football stadium rather than a room of roughly 150 people. Now of course I know all these things are stage managed in microscopic detail but the trick is surely to try and make it feel real, honest and engaging.
Now to the content. One of the headlines from the speech was that the Lib Dems in Wales would lower taxes for middle and lower income families. This principle is all well and good but why spend time in your first speech to conference as leader to spell out a policy that the Assembly doesn’t have the power to implement? And surely everyone knows this already about the Lib Dems, so why spend so much time on it?
In saying this there was also some clear timely messages put forth by Kirsty Williams - help people not banks, time to move away from sleazy politics, time to believe in Liberalism in Wales, time for greater elected accountability.
I ask myself whether I was expecting too much? I also ask myself does a leopard change its spots? It seems to me that Kirsty Williams needs more than 4 months to forge a new direction, a new image and a new future for the party.
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