1. Conference resolves to ban goldfish prizes at fairs
The purest expression of Lib Dem eccentricity. The 1992 conference had a serious downer on fairground animals. Some still claim it is a myth stemming from a mischievous reading of an animal rights resolution. But the story is too good to question.
2. Surprise Jeremy Thorpe appearance while facing conspiracy to murder charges
Imagine the look on David Steel’s face when Thorpe ignored an imposed ban and turned-up to the 1978 Southport conference. The legend goes that the conspiracy to murder charges were so serious that Thorpe only received a three-quarter standing ovation. A dramatic closed-door debate also considered a motion “regretting the actions of party officers” in asking him not to come.
3. Steel tells activists to “go home and prepare for government”
Pure conference gold. A classic of British politics. Even better than Jo Grimond saying “we’ve got our teeth into the red meat of government”. Unlikely to be bettered in any leader’s speech. Surely a perfect gag line for Clegg this year?
4. The Lib Dem Curse on Capitalism
Rarely does a Lib Dem conference pass without triggering calamity in the markets. Past crises coinciding with the Lib Dem seaside jamboree include the collapse of the pound on Black Wednesday, Northern Rock, Lehman Brothers, and Long Term Capital Management. Traders beware: bring too many Liberals together in one place and capitalism quakes.
5. Ashdown storms off after delegates back cannabis legalisation inquiry
To this day The Captain insists he wasn’t in a huff. It was just he had to run off the conference stage to make another appointment. Nothing to do with legalising drugs. Absolutely nothing.
6. Agent Ashdown crashes through Glee Club window
Certainly the most imaginative entrance to a conference event by a serving MP. Picture the squeals of delight at the Liberal Glee Club sing-a-long when Captain Ashdown swung through the window dressed as a frogman.
7. The White Witch denounces bad vibes around Simon Hughes
This incident is still used to train budding Lib Dem conference chairs. At the end of a particularly long and tedious debate on commerce policy, the chair relucantly gave way to a point of order. “I am a witch,” the lady told the stunned conference hall. She went on to explain she had detected “evil spirits particularly concentrated on Simon Hughes”. Ever since, all conference chairs have been given a mute button.
8. The SDP conference train breaks down
The so-called “Flying Moderate” was the SDP conference train that criss-crossed the country. It was a popular innovation, not least because it carried as many bottles of claret as conference delegates. On one night in 1982, with hacks singing lustily in press carriage, the “Flying Moderate” came to an abrupt stop on its way to Great Yarmouth. The guard passed through the corridors reassuring passengers that there was “no need to panic” because there would be another train “available in March” — without explaining March was a place in East Anglia.
9. Elspeth Campbell hand-bags Nick Clegg
Brighton was a special conference. First Sir Menzies Capbell’s formidable wife Elspeth button-holes Clegg in a hotel foyer, saying with brilliant understatement: “I don’t know if you are being helpful or not”. Then Campbell was captured on camera pointing down an eco-lavatory. Politics can be a cruel business.
10. The second Taiwan Straights Crisis of 1958
Sir Alan Comyns Carr was a conference chair with a disconcerting habit of keeping his notes between his mouth and his microphone. But his address in 1958, during an international security crisis over two obscure islands in the Taiwan straights, is fondly remembered to this day. “Fellow Liberals,” he declared. “The eyes of the world are on us — I do not want to say anything which might exacerbate the situation in Quemoy and Matsu.”