Campaigning for deaf children at the Lib Dem party conference: day 2

On my 2nd and last day at the Liberal Democrat party conference, I managed not to get swept away by the Nick Clegg crowd. But I did make the mistake of going to a fringe meeting of the British Youth Council, where suited and booted amongst a group of Lib Dem young people, I felt around twenty years older than I actually am. Oh dear.

But yesterday was mostly spent meeting more MPs, Lords and Ladies to tell them about the National Deaf Children’s Society Hands up for help! campaign. Happily, everyone was keen to support. For each MP we met, we also provided detailed briefing notes about what NDCS’s survey of local authorities revealed about help for deaf children in their own area, which went down well. I picked up a keen desire to understand more about how the funding arrangements for help for deaf children work, and the implications of deafness being a relatively less common disability. We received lots of offers to write to local authorities and government ministers, and to raise questions within Parliament.

Sadly, I hadn’t managed to track down two of our key targets by the time I left, though my boss was still stalking them on the conference’s last evening. Very disappointing.

What has been interesting about this conference has been finding out how becoming a government coalition partner has changed the way many Lib Dem MPs work. When in opposition, there would be a group of three or four people acting as “shadow” ministers. But now instead, we have some Liberal Democrats who are Ministers and others who are acting as “spokespeople” within the party, providing a conduit from which specific backbenchers can express their views or concerns on specific issues. It rather changes the dynamics of how I might lobby various people.

Overall, it’s a been a full-on but enjoyable few days in Liverpool. Now the travelling circus moves on to Manchester for the Labour party conference weekend where my colleagues will be picking up the baton of campaigning for deaf children. Look forward to finding out how they got on.

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Campaigning for deaf children at the Lib Dems: day 3

It’s been a windy day, as evidenced by my lame attempts to take a photo of a Liberal Democrat flag. But, despite the disappearance of the sun, it’s been another successful day of lobbying Lib Dem MPs. We met three today – Norman Lamb, Malcolm Bruce and Bob Russell. Again, Laura did a fantastic job of explaining to MPs some of the challenges she’s faced. She won effusive praise from Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for Health, who seemed impressed with her confidence and her ability to explain what it’s like to have a cochlear implant and some of the challenges faced in getting one. Malcolm Bruce, who is Vice-President of NDCS and has a deaf daughter himself, also took the time to learn about some of Laura’s thoughts on deafness. Having met ten MPs over two days, I’m exhausted but pleased that it’s all gone so well. Laura has done a fantastic job – and she’s not even 16 yet. She still wants to be a social worker though, so I don’t need to worry about my job being stolen by a young upstart…

We also took the opportunity to catch up and share notes with other charities, including RNID, who have also been lobbying in force at the conference for deaf children and adults.

But it wasn’t all hard work – we took some time out to play some crazy golf! Or, in my case, I took some time out to be comprehensively humiliated and beaten at a game that involves tapping balls into halls by a 15 year old… Darn kids.

So that’s Bournemouth. Next week, the NDCS campaigns team head to Manchester to lobby Labour MPs at their party conference.

Campaigning for deaf children at the Lib Dems: day 2

Today has been an exhilirating day at the Liberal Democrat party conference with meetings with not one, not two but seven MPs. Star of the show though was Laura, a local young deaf person who we brought over to the conference as a experiment, to try and prove our point that deafness is not a learning disability and if deaf children are given the right support, there is no reason why they should not achieve just as well as their hearing peers. Laura, being incredibly bright, articulate and confident proves our point perfectly. And received a lot of support from a very early age, from a teacher of the deaf and her parents. Besides, who better to explain the challenges that deaf children experience growing up than a deaf child herself. All the MPs seemed pleased to meet her and seemed to go away feeling impressed with her achievements and a clear message that deaf children can do well, if given the right support from the very beginning.

All the MPs were great, but Annette Brooke, an influential MP who has been very supportive of NDCS in the past and who has taken a close interest in how the education system serves children with special educational needs stood out as a highlight. All MPs have an incredibly busy schedule but Annette really took the time to learn in detail about Laura’s experiences and her thoughts on various issues.

We updated MPs on the latest issues realting to our campaigns and asked them to support us in various ways going forward. Then we took some photos which we’ll be sending to local media to raise awareness across the UK about our campaign.

Laura seemed to really enjoy and it was good experience for me too. I am now, though, completely knackered and am writing this to you with an IV drip on my arm, giving me a constant drip of caffeine…

One more day to go with a few more key MPs to meet…

Party conferences: NDCS’s plans to stalk MPs

The political party conferences are coming up in September. There are where all the MPs and members for each party get together. Depending on the political mood in the party, MPs will be talking about how wonderful it is that the general public seem to like them or wondering what poison to put in their leader’s tea. They have lots of meetings and speeches and debates and pass motions and talk about policy.

The party conferences tend to be in seaside towns, giving MPs the opportunity to stock up on their ‘Kiss-me-quick’ hats. But this year, only the Liberal Democrats are going for a seaside feel by hosting their conference in Bournemouth. Labour are heading to Manchester and the Conservatives are in Birmingham.

As all the MPs for each party are all in one place, it is the best opportunity any campaigns officer gets to lobby lots of people at once. So the party conferences are also full of people like me who go in the aim of persuading key decision makers to support their campaigns. It sometimes rather feels like stalking. Last year, I took this to a new level by going to three meetings where one particular MP was speaking before finally nabbing him as he was leaving the third meeting and asking him to table a motion in Parliament about deaf children and education. I’m pleased to say that my stalking paid off.

And we’ll be doing the same this year. Right now, I’m currently sorting out all the arrangements for this – arranging meetings with MPs, looking up the list of seminars that key MPs will be speaking at, deciding what our key messages will be, sorting out travel/hotel stuff and so on. To complicate things, I also have to sort out the arrangements for my interpreter, who will be accompanying me this year to help with communication support, as well. It makes me long for the gift of time. Or a PA. Or some chocolate biscuits.

To make things a bit different this year, we are taking along a young deaf person with us to one of the party conferences – she is called Laura and you may have been watching this space for her after I blogged about meeting her quite recently in Newbury. The idea is that we give MPs the opportunity to hear from a young deaf person directly about some of the things that matter to them. We’ll see how it goes this time and try and do it all the time in the future. I’m pretty confident that Laura will do a great job and am looking forward to seeing what she thinks of it all.

Look out for more blogging updates on the party conferences and I’ll let you know how it all goes.