After a bruising election defeat for the Liberal Democrats, their conference in Bournemouth risked being a particularly quiet event. And for business it was. The #LibDemFightback won't be delivered by lobbyists and this was a conference for the Party's members, volunteers and campaigners. The fringe guide was noticeably light on industry sponsored events and speaking to conference event organisers and businesses it was clear that the energy put into the orange of the Lib Dems had been switched to the yellow of the SNP this autumn.
However, for the Party, this conference marked a critical point in their survival and recovery. The main conference hall was full of party members debating the motions that will form their policies and, according to their newly elected leader, this was the largest conference for member turn out in many years. There might be five years until the next General Election but the Lib Dems have their sights firmly on the local elections next year and their grass roots are eager for the clear message they can deliver on the doorsteps.
On energy, the Lib Dems remain focused on carbon reduction and the Paris talks later this year were the main thrust of their energy and environment policy debate and the principle topic of their Green Summit. The strength of the UK position and the need for a deal that is agreed by Europe, the US, China and India were all considered essential to a successful round of climate change talks. However, for UK businesses it was clear that a heavily prescriptive outcome would be a negative. As ENA has always suggested, policies both in Europe and internationally need to recognise that commitments on carbon reduction, delivered in the way that best suits each individual country are what is best for customers, industry and the environment as well as standing the greatest chance of success.
With a significant presence in the House of Lords, the Liberal Democrats don't see their lack of MPs as an end to their influence for five years. They intend to be an informed, albeit significantly smaller, group in the Commons and very active in the debates in the House of Lords. The message to business and industry was clear - the Lib Dems' door is open and they're willing to listen.