By Caron Lindsay on Liberal Democrat Voice| Fri 8th March 2013 – 7:55 am
On the official party website: Conference home
By the time you read this, I’ll be in London, no doubt bleary eyed after a night on the sleeper, on my way to Spring Conference in Brighton. I’ve been thinking about how we are as we gather at the seaside. It’s been an eventful six months but has the good outweighed the bad?
Things to smile about
Since we met in Brighton, our ministers in the Coalition Government have done some excellent things. Here’s just a selection:
- Plans for shared parental leave announced;
- Equal (ish) marriage Bill unveiled;
- Stopping the Tories capping Child Benefit at 2 children and taking Housing Benefit off under 25s;
- Putting mental health on a par with physical health in NHS mandate;
- Boundary Review killed off after Tories reneged on House of Lords reform;
- Mike Moore delivering the Edinburgh Agreement setting out Independence Referendum process and being hailed as James Bond, among other good things, in the press;
- Jo Swinson tackling payday lenders:
- Lynne Featherstone’s work on education for women and girls and tackling violence against them at home and abroad.
- Pensions rise by 2.5% thanks to Steve Webb’s triple lock;
- 23 million basic rate tax payers get further tax cut – by April, they’ll have gained £600 per year.
We also have a shiny new MP to make a fuss of. I am sure he and Nick Clegg will express their appreciation of the way party activists put their lives on hold and went to Eastleigh, donated money and phonebanked from around the country.
We’ve also had our leader doing a weekly radio phone-in, which he hasn’t ducked even in torrid times. Call Clegg has been a great feature of the week. As Stephen Tall reported earlier this week, he’s bound to drop himself in it at some point, but the advantages well outweigh the concerns.
This is Ryan Coetzee’s first Conference. Some might say that Nick Clegg’s new Head of Strategy has made more of an impact in 5 months than his predecessor did in 2 years. He has been pivotal in developing the “stronger economy in a fairer society helping people to get on in life” message. I’ve met him several times now and have been very impressed. He definitely feels like a proper Liberal Democrat campaigner, very much one of us.
Things to worry about
- The hardship caused by the Welfare Uprating Bill and the inaccurately dubbed “bedroom tax”;
- Secret Courts, supported by our MPs despite overwhelming opposition from activists;
- The economy isn’t in great shape;
In addition to that, we meet for the first time since the allegations concerning the conduct of Lord Rennard, which he denies, emerged. As I wrote the other day, there’s a lot of very raw emotion about and anyone who talks about it really needs to have their empathy and sensitivity switched on. We have to let the inquiries, both Police and Party, take their course, but there’s no denying this has sent shockwaves through the Party which wasn’t helped by the vicious and inaccurate reporting in some quarters of the press. We know that the Party had considerable notice that this was bound to break, and their initial response was, to say the least, lacking.
Things to look forward to
Debates on Corporate Tax Avoidance, manufacturing to strengthen the economy, the rural economy and access to social security tribunals. I did my pick of the Conference agenda a few weeks ago.
There’s real controversy on Saturday morning when a constitutional amendment to allow Conference to trigger a leadership ballot is debated. One point I’d make on that. The fact that we’re in Government means that journalists read our Conference papers. We’ve had coverage for consultation papers on MPs job-sharing and tax in the press. If 10 people with a gripe, justified or not, were able to stick a motion calling for a leadership ballot on an agenda published weeks in advance, what do you think the media would be talking about? And it wouldn’t just be a paragraph in passing on page 23. There is already a procedure which allows the grassroots to call a leadership ballot which requires a broad base of support from around the country. Should we not just leave it at that?
Also expect at least one motion on secret courts on the emergency motions ballot. There have been submissions from Liberal Democrats against Secret Courts and Mark Thompson. My view is that the party must be given the chance to discuss something of paramount importance to activists and members around the country.
And did I mention we have Paddy giving a speech
Don’t forget it’s our Silver Jubilee
We’re pretty good at nostalgia at the best of times, but we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary as a party, so expect reminiscences about the time we were an asterisk in the opinion polls, our by-election triumphs in the 1990s, Great Debates We Have Had and all sorts.
To mark the anniversary and also as an exercise in focusing our minds on positive things, Alex Wilcock from Love and Liberty, my often co-conspirator on the Golden Dozen, has launched a challenge for people to come up with a brief statement of what the Liberal Democrats stand for today. Eight people, including me, have so far taken him up on it. Here’s his Round-Up of contributions received so far. He’s perfectly happy to publish more, so you can all consider yourselves tagged in this meme.
Liberal Democrats will gather with mixed emotions this weekend but will debate, learn and enjoy the fringes and the exhibitions with their usual enthusiasm.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron’s Musings