Who’d be a Lib Dem press officer?

by Stephen Tall on May 17, 2010

The mood emerging from Sunday’s special conference – which overwhelmingly endorsed the Lib Dem leadership’s decision to enter into a coalition agreement with the Conservatives – appears to have been almost universally positive, with even doubters rallying at the prospect of the historic opportunity open to the party.

But we wouldn’t be liberals unless we found something to critique – and on this occasion it’s been the Lib Dem media office which has got it in the neck from some supporters. The Bracknell Blog puts it reasonably (many on Twitter have been a little more splenetic):

Why was this meeeting a closed meeting? … I feel the Liberal Democrats missed a trick here. There were some great speeches some of these could of made the news and atleast should of been shown on the parliament channel. Arguments for and against could of been heard and understood by the wider members and supporters.

We Lib Dems have had to get accustomed very quickly to having to make difficult choices, and one of those was faced by the party’s media team last week: whether to let the TV news cameras into the conference hall, or not.

There were two fears. The first was that, given the conference was being organised at very short notice after a gruelling election campaign and with the result never really in doubt, most activists would opt for a quiet weekend at home: cue TV footage of a cavernous hall with snarky voice-over suggesting that Lib Dem members had voted with their feet.

The second was that there would be one angry speech, even an orchestrated protest or a walk-out, which would grab the headlines and make the party appear disunited – regardless of the outcome of the vote – at exactly the moment we most need to pull together.

In the event, neither fear became reality: the debate was high quality, the speakers constructive, and the 1,500 activists who scurried to Birmingham eager to share in this historic moment wafted out on a cloud of optimism.

But you can bet your bottom euro that if the worst-case scenario had been realised there would have been any number of people queuing up on Twitter and in the blogsphere to wisely point out how the Lib Dem press office should have anticipated just such an eventuality, and what do we pay them for anyway etc.

Perhaps they were mistaken to adopt a safety-first approach, who knows? But given the quite extraordinary risks the party has taken in the last fortnight I don’t blame our media team for exercising some caution on this particular occasion.