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The lost resort

As the Liberal Democrats assembled for their annual love-in last week in Bournemouth, international events proved much more important than slating the Tories for once and delegates adopted an appropriately serious tone throughout the week.

Security was noticeably heightened, with ladies in bright yellow shirts searching people&#39s bags.

The scheduled events were thrown into disarray as an emergency debate was held to agree on the party&#39s response to the tragic events in the US.

Party leader Charles Kennedy made a sombre speech on Mon-day, calling for “proportionate response”.

Measured responses characterised the entire week. Any time that the words “pension policy” or “financial services” were mentioned, the general response was something of a blank stare, perhaps blinking once or twice while trying to make sense of what was being asked of them.

At one point, the assorted journalists in the press room scrambled, grabbing their notepads and cameras as they ran for the door. For a moment it seemed that there was finally going to be some action as a seeming protester descending on the conference centre from the skies, deftly navigated his glider to land outside the entrance to the conference centre.

Speculation was rife about who the pilot could be. Was it Ken Clarke, looking for a new party to court like a jilted bridegroom? Or maybe CBI director general Digby Jones making a grand entrance?

Or could it have been the lonely banjo-playing anti-cigarette protester who apparently appears like clockwork at each year&#39s conference, desperate for attention for his cause?

But no, it was only a lost aviator having problems controlling the direction of his glider. The journalists trooped back to their cages, disappointed that no arrest was made.

Trade and industry spokesman Vincent Cable, the long-time friend of the IFA, thankfully made some attempts to stir things up a little by proposing a fund to which providers and the Government would contribute, which would foot the costs of independent financial advice for everyone.

It seemed like a typical LibDem idea – not too much thinking about how it could be implemented but on a week like this one, the proposal was akin to finding an oasis in a desert.

In the evenings, the masses assembled at the Marriott Hotel. MPs, high-flying consultants and journalists whispered conspiratorially in the corners of the bar over drinks.

The hard-core of delegates, yellow-clad, of course, were also seen sipping their pints of bitter while clutching transparent carrier bags full of yellow LibDem goodies closely to their chests.

No bombs dropped in Central Asia that night or any other last week but the mood was one where everyone present expected to wake up to the news that Britain was at war.

One thing is certain, when the world returns to a degree of normality, the LibDems will be there, arguing for compulsory contributions to stakeholder, free personal care and now, it appears, free financial advice for all.

It is nice to know that, even in these crazy times, some things remain much the same.

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