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

by Stephen Tall on March 10, 2013

Lib Dem Conference app screenshotHere’s a few highlights from the second day’s action at Brighton… (You can catch up on my round-up of the first day-and-a-bit here.)

Let’s start with the positive…

First, if you haven’t yet, do read the Independent’s editorial today (I suspect someone in Nick Clegg’s office will have it framed for him):

The Lib Dems are walking tall
the party is gathered in Brighton for its spring conference this weekend in better heart than it has been at any time since that glad confident morning in the Downing Street garden. The immediate source of its good spirit was its success in holding Huhne’s seat in Eastleigh in the by-election last month. … the party is buoyant because it is more than just a vote-harvesting machine.

Its members believe that they have shown maturity as a party of government, and that they have made a difference as a junior coalition partner, which the voters have recognised and for which they will be rewarded. … They have prevented the Conservatives from doing things which are not in the national interest, such as scrapping the Human Rights Act or wasting a tax break on marriage. And they have persuaded the Tories to do things that they might not have done, such as raising the income tax threshold. … They are the greenest of the three main parties, the most pro-European and they are the party that, 10 years ago this month, opposed the invasion of Iraq. Their record in government has been mixed. But, for a party that was last in office in 1945, to have a record in government at all is an achievement. A Liberal leader once urged the party to march towards the sound of gunfire. Now, as Liberal Democrats, they are going through the gunfire. And they are still standing.

Okay, so the Indy is generally friendly towards the Lib Dems. But James Forsyth in the Mail also spares some praise for the party and for Nick Clegg:

[Nick Clegg] will stride on to the stage in Brighton today in the strongest position he has been in since the Liberal Democrats formed the Coalition with the Conservatives. … He will echo this message today, telling the party faithful: ‘We’re winning again.’ Clegg wants to show his activists, who still fret about being in power with the Tories and the effect it will have on them, that the Lib Dems are winning because of being in Government, not despite it. … Another factor improving the mood in Clegg’s circle is the Prime Minister’s plight. As one of Clegg’s aides remarks: ‘The Conservatives’ chance of winning outright in 2015 is receding. That’s diminishing David’s authority while strengthening Nick’s position.’

Nick Clegg’s speech gets good reception

You can read the text of Nick Clegg’s speech here, and my initial take on it here: “On message. In volume. Over time.” That’s the real text of Nick Clegg’s speech today.

His attacks on the Tories’ rightward lurch — which he likened to a broken shopping trolley — have been picked up widely by the media, including his declaration that Theresa May’s threat to withdraw the UK from the European Court of Human Rights won’t happen while he’s sitting round the cabinet table. Here’s the clip from Channel 4 News’s coverage:

James Forsyth (again) had kind words for Nick Clegg, this time in The Spectator:

Above all, though, today’s speech was meant to mark a change in the Liberal Democrat mindset. Clegg wanted to persuade them that the defensive part of coalition has now ended and that they’re now in a position to go on the offensive. It’s a brave message to deliver to a party that’s too often polling at single digits in the polls, but it is one that Eastleigh has made credible.

While The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour highlights Nick’s core message:

A newly optimistic Nick Clegg, saved from the near-death experience of the Eastleigh byelection, said the Liberal Democrats have moved from being a protest party to the anchor that will deliver centre-ground governments committed to both a strong economy and a fairer society.

But it’s not all good news…

The party leadership and party members clashed over the issue of ‘secret courts’: the leadership was overwhelmingly defeated. In the process, we lost two prominent party members: Jo Shaw, who resigned from the stage while moving the motion in opposition to secret courts; and Dinah Rose, a QC who declared unequivocally that ‘secret courts’ “cannot be fairly operated”. As I pointed out here – It’s not just the Lib Dem leadership trying to ignore the ‘secret courts’ row: the news media is too – it was as much the manner of the leadership’s refusal to engage with those members who are opposed to ‘secret courts’ as their support for them which has antagonised many.

Somewhat inevitably The Guardian defined the row over ‘secret courts’ — along with the debate-that-wasn’t on the economy — as a “battle with the party’s left”, which fails to appreciate the way the issue has united strands of the party which frequently disagree on the Coalition’s deficit reduction strategy.

There was also the more minor matter of an opinion poll in the Observer showing Ukip on 17% and the Lib Dems on 8%.

Though that single poll is more than counterbalanced by this analysis of all polls:

The other debates: Leveson and corporate tax avoidance

Both motions were passed by conference this morning — here’s the Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow’s summaries of what they say:

Leveson

Here are the key points in the motion.

• All-party agreement is the most desirable way forward.

• The Lib Dems would only support the use of a royal charter to implement the Leveson proposals on four conditions: that the royal charter is “fully protected in statute from executive interference”; that it delivers the Leveson conditions for press self-regulation in full; that it is accompanied by statute to implement the proposals on costs and exemplary damages; and that it fully implements what Leveson recommends on the recognition process.

• The Lib Dems should support legislation if the royal charter proposals remain unacceptable.

• The defamation bill should not be used to implement Leveson.

The speakers included Christopher Jefferies, the schoolteacher who was traduced by the media after being falsely accused of the murder of Joanna Yeates in Bristol.

Corporate tax avoidance:

The conference has passed a motion on corporate tax avoidance saying (among other things) that UK-based multinational firms should have to report their tax information on a country-by-country basis and that there should be more transparency when firms reach out-of-court tax settlements with HM Revenue and Customs.

Of Huhne, Pryce and Trimingham

The Mail’s Brendan Carlin reported today:

Chris Huhne has resigned from the Liberal Democrats in the wake of his conviction, party sources said last night. Insiders also claimed Mr Huhne’s lover, Carina Trimingham, has quit her party membership. However, ex-wife Vicky Pryce – last week found guilty of perverting the course of justice for taking his speeding points – is still a member.

Indeed she is, according to Mark Pack:

That’s it from Lib Dem conference for this year — see you in Glasgow in September, when we can do it all again. (Well, maybe not all…)

* 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.