Duncan spoke in a debate about widening political engagement at Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow.
Conference, it’s good to see so many familiar faces here. Or is it? Personally, I’m always encouraged to see new faces and hear first-time speakers.
We’re liberals, and it’s often been said that if Britain didn’t have a Liberal Democrat party you’d have to invent us. But you probably wouldn’t invent us with quite the internal structures and arrangements that were put in place 25 years ago.
They were of their time; designed for circumstances that have changed enormously over the life of our party. And I don’t think they respond particularly well to the challenges and opportunities of political engagement that we face in Britain today.
Let me tell you about Ben.
Ben has a keen interest in politics. Critically, he’s a liberal. I met him for coffee in Bradford on Avon, after which he joined the party.
He is a young entrepreneur and has created opportunities for others through his technology business. He’s supporting my campaign in Wiltshire and as his MP I helped him with a voluntary project to get real-time information to rail passengers. He recently told me about a ‘hack’ event that he wanted to organise to create tools to help citizens to make the most of free and open information.
Frankly, Ben can see parts of the future far better than many MPs.
You can see, Ben has a lot to offer the Liberal Democrats. But you know, he hasn’t been to any of June's coffee mornings in Chippenham and, like most members, he doesn't find anything appealing about the Annual General Meetings he gets invited to.
So when he told me that he wanted to come to conference this year, I was enthusiastic, but I had to tell him that we had already decided who would be able to vote on behalf of our local party almost a year ago.
He still thought he’d come, but regrettably, conference, he’s not here this week. And that’s not just his loss; it’s ours as well.
It’s not just better for democracy for us to be more open and encourage wider participation; it’s actually better for those of us who are trying to support good people and develop great policies.
Don’t get me wrong conference, I really am glad to see all of you here this afternoon. But every person like Ben who isn’t here today represents a contribution missed, a new perspective lost and an interesting voice unheard.
Surely conference, no one outside is expecting this motion to pass today. After all, I am asking you to take the power and privilege you have as conference reps, and give it to people who don’t, just like Ben.
Why would you do that? Why, having taken that power would you choose to pass it on?
Because, conference, we’re liberals. And that’s what we do.