It's my party ...

September 24, 2004

Phil Baty reports from the Lib Dems conference, where hopes are high

Richard Grayson, Goldsmiths University politics lecturer, has been a committed Liberal Democrat since he defected from the University of East Anglia's Conservative students' association as an undergraduate in 1988.

He went on to become the first non-Labour Party member to win the post as president - or general secretary as it was known at UEA - of the students' union, and has not looked back since.

He has worked as one of the Lib Dems' top advisers, and is prospective parliamentary candidate for the (widely perceived as unwinnable) Hemel Hempstead constituency in the next election.

"In the late Eighties, both the main parties were rather extreme," he said.

"There was a sense that the Liberal Democrats approached things in a common-sense way. A balanced and consensual way."

Although the party, following its creation from the merger of the SDP and Liberals, was running at a poor 3 per cent in the opinion polls at the time (putting it technically on the verge of existence given the accepted 3 per cent margin of error), Dr Grayson insists that there was a sense that the party was going places.

Now, 13 years after his first party conference, it seems that the Lib Dems are on the up.

"There is a real sense of optimism at the conference this year," he said.

"For one, it seems much bigger than it used to be. And, in the past, the people with the power were the local councillors. Now we have a collection of MPs who seriously expect to be ministers in the future."

Dr Grayson has taught at 17 colleges of Oxford University, where he obtained his doctorate in a record-breaking two years and nine months, and institutions ranging from the private Buckingham University to the Open University. He believes the Lib Dems have tremendous appeal in the sector.

"The importance the party places on education as the key to making the most of your life is very attractive," he said. "The Lib Dems see education as being of value in itself. We are a party that values things that can't be added up while other parties look at education as a balance sheet."

But it is as a citizen, activist and former senior policy adviser, that his passion for the party really hots up.

"There is a shift in values in this country," he said. "People are increasingly coming to the view that Labour is not progressive any more and not particularly liberal-minded. People are fed up with being dictated to about their lifestyle or how their public services are run. They want a party that will provide more freedom."

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