Lib Dems love their leaders

Last night, a post from Stephen about our current survey degenerated in the comments to a rather ill-tempered argument about whether Clegg should be proposing now to cut taxes in general when he didn’t mention that he wanted to when standing for the leadership.

All that aside, the key interesting thing the comments generated from my point of view was the following list of times when Lib Dem leaders wanted one thing and Conference sent them packing.

1994 – party debates motion on setting up a Royal Commission to review drugs policy. Motion carried, despite clear steer from leadership. Ashdown storms off stage.

1994 – Party supports minimum wage despite Alex Carlile stating that the entire parliamentary party supported an alternative option

1996 - Student finance policy heavily amended despite opposition of Education Spokesman

1998 – party front bench argues for abandonment of minimum wage policy (also adopted in 1994). Defeated.

1999 – motion on HE policy calling for benefits to be restored to students. Passed. Both members of front bench education team speak against it in the debate.

2006 – party debates policy on taxation. Proposal to abandon line on a 50p rate on incomes above £100,000 passed – endorsed by leadership. Big debate. Broad consensus that the party had had a proper debate and that people had voted on the principle, not out of some craven desire to keep the party happy.

2006 – party throws out local government paper.

2007 – party rejects proposal for Community Land Auctions despite clear steer.

Did we really go five years without disagreeing with the leader?

It is a useful reminder that – results of our other poll notwithstanding – the party conference is one of the best things about being the Lib Dems.  It is our real opportunity to hold our leadership and parliamentarians to account.

With thanks to James Graham and Hwyel Morgan for, er, doing most of the work on this posting.

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6 Comments

  • Simon Titley 8th Sep '08 - 7:47pm

    James – Here we go again.

    For the record, it is not Liberator’s line that party leaders “should adopt a Trappist vow of silence until after conference”. It is Liberator’s line that significant changes in party policy should be debated openly and agreed by the party.

    Apart from being more democratic, open and honest debate has two other advantages. It swings the party behind a new policy. And the process of debate achieves clarity, which is essential if a policy is to be newsworthy or any use as a campaign tool.

    The way the new tax policy has been slipped into ‘Make it Happen’ is not a satisfactory way to change policy. It suggests the promoters of this policy have little confidence in their ability to win arguments.

    If you can’t convince your own party through open debate, what chance do you have with the electorate?

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