That Was The Day That Was – your essential Lib Dem conference round-up

by Stephen Tall on March 9, 2013

Autumn 2012 conference - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsHere’s a few highlights from the first day-and-a-bit’s action at Brighton…

Secret courts rouse conference passions – on both sides

It’s no secret that many Lib Dem members are angry with the vast majority of Lib Dem MPs for their decision to over-ride the vote of the party conference last September and approve legislation extending the use of Closed Material Procedures, aka ‘secret courts’. Ming Campbell is one of the few MPs so far publicly to make the case in favour – which he did on LibDemVoice here.

Nick Clegg defended his backing for them in his question-and-answer session at conference this afternoon. The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman captures the mood here: Clegg plays tough guy in shouty Q&A with Lib Dem activists:

… this was a more robust session than usual, with considerably more steam: activists weren’t just anxious and keen to grill their leader, they were grumpy. They were particularly annoyed with the way the Lib Dem leader dealt with their questions about secret courts … One activist grew rather angry as he asked his question. ‘How can we call ourselves a Liberal Democratic party?’ he asked Clegg. Clegg insisted that the party had done everything it could, given the constraints of Coalition. Actually, what activists want is for the party to vote against the second part of the bill, which it hasn’t done. There is only one small stage left in the Bill’s passage through parliament, ping-pong, where the Lords will consider amendments made in the Commons, so that rebellion bird has flown.

Expect more, much more, in this vein tomorrow, as secret courts has been selected as one of the two topics for an emergency debate. Though, as Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges speculates, Nick Clegg might not be so very displeased by that:

Controversially, a motion on the economy, which came second in the ballot, was demoted by the party’s federal conference committee on the grounds that half an hour would be inadequate to cover the issue. So instead, the Leveson report will be the other topic discussed – which hasn’t pleased all members:

Plan A or Plan V?

After his essay in the New Statesman this week – covered here on LibDemVoice by Bill le Breton – it wasn’t much surprise to hear Vince Cable repeat his message in his Guardian interview today:

“To most people it seems merely common sense that in a crisis where the private sector lacks the confidence to invest, the government should do so: building modern infrastructure or giving councils the freedom to build affordable homes.” Historically, low interest rates mean that government (and local government) can borrow to invest cheaply.”

Other key points are covered well by The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman: Vince Cable: Tory ‘ideologues’ waging ‘jihad’ against public spending.

Both Nick and Vince take a swipe at pensioner perks

First, here’s Vince:

“I have been getting the winter fuel payment for five years, it has been keeping me warm in Twickenham. I actually give it away. If we are in the realm of tough choices, why did we feel this area is a sacred cow?”

And secondly, here’s Nick in his Q&A session with members:

If you want to revisit welfare then let’s at least start with the people at the top. Vince Cable receives a bus pass in Twickenham; he doesn’t feel he needs it. Why are we giving – Vince isn’t a millionaire – but why are we giving these universal no-questions-asked benefits to millionaire pensioners when people on much lower incomes are having their support from the benefits system cut or curtailed. And the Conservatives don’t want to do that. So they don’t even in their great enthusiasm for welfare reform, let’s go after welfare; go after welfare, even when they want to do that they won’t start at the top and work down.

Lib Dems / Tories agree compromise on Labour’s mansion tax ruse

Last month, Ed Miliband announced Labour’s decision to copy the Lib Dems’ tax-cuts-for-low-and-middle-earners policy and to pay for it by copying the Lib Dems’ mansion tax. All very bi-partisan. Labour then reckoned it would be a jolly wheeze to try and split the Coalition parties by tabling a motion in support of the mansion tax. Unsurprisingly, even passionate advocates like Vince can see through such tactics. And according to James Forsyth in The Spectator, the Lib Dems and Tories have worked out a way to ensure honour is satisfied on all sides:

… I understand from a senior coalition source that the two parties have now reached an agreement on how to handle Tuesday’s vote on Labour’s mansion tax motion. The Liberal Democrat leadership has assured their coalition partners that they’ll back a government amendment to it. This amendment will concede that the coalition parties have different views on the issue. The only question now is whether the speaker John Bercow will call it.

‘Lembit motion’ defeated

The so-called ‘Lembit motion’ – an attempt to amend the party’s constitution to make it possible for 10 voting representatives to trigger a motion of no-confidence in the party leader, which was moved by Ed Joyce and Rich Clare, but attributed to Lembit Opik – was overwhelmingly defeated. Apparently fewer than 10 people voted for it, somewhat ironically.

Ashcroft poll shows big Lib Dem losses

Lord Ashcroft has commissioned another of his polls, this time looking at a couple of hundred marginals. The headline finding a snapshot not a prediction) gives Labour an 84-seat majority. Its findings would also see the Lib Dems’ strength more than halved, even despite a considerable incumbency boost from popular sitting MPs, as UK Polling Report’s Anthony Wells notes:

Even with this prompting the poll suggests the Lib Dems will lose around 17 seats to the Conservatives. In seats where they are up against Labour the swing is bigger, the tactical/incumbency boost is smaller, and the Lib Dems face wipeout. Overall, if this poll was reflected at the next general election – still two years away remember- it would leave the Lib Dems with around 25 seats, a very sizeable loss, but not the complete wipeout that some have predicted, feared or hoped for.

A couple of cautionary tweets follow:

And don’t forget to check out Tom Richards’ article about Ashcroft’s findings relating specifically to the Lib Dems here: A rousing campaigning message from Lord Ashcroft (of all people).

Speeches to date:

From Nick Clegg (at the rally), Jo Swinson, Paddy Ashdown and Steve Webb.

You can read the BBC News report (and video clip) of Paddy’s barn-storming speech here: Paddy Ashdown urges Lib Dems to not let power be a ‘blip’.

Chris Huhne lives on

Not only was he praised by Shirley Williams in her speech to the Lib Dem ally last night, but Nick Clegg has also paid tribute today. Here’s the snippet from Andrew Sparrow’s Guardian live-blog:

Whatever is going on with Chris and Vicky [Pryce, Huhne’s ex-wife] … not only was he an outstanding local constituency MP he was also an extremely powerful thinker and indeed an very effective secretary of state. The fact that he has contributed two chapters on very important policies is very good to see. I hope people register that.

Nick was speaking at a fringe event to launch The Green Book, which one of its authors Mike Tuffrey wrote about here on LibDemVoice: The Green Book – new directions for Liberals in government.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.