Opinion: Economics will rightly dominate conference

A fairer, more sustainable economy – that’s what Lib Dem conference will be about
I’d like propose a new hashtag – #IAgreeWithSimon. Hughes, that is, specifically I agree with this:

At the next election we will be judged by whether relative to the rest of the western developed world we have steered our way through these difficult waters.

The government’s record to date is not encouraging, and with Liberal Democrats gathering in Brighton on Saturday to debate how the to shape the nation’s political economy, conference fringe will once again be where it’s really at.

The Social Liberal Forum has an excellent line-up of fringes, starting by discussing why, how and when to disengage with the Tories before May 2015. Sponsored by Liberator magazine, this Saturday evening meeting will see Lord Rennard, Tim Farron MP, Brighton MP Caroline Lucas, Stuart Weir (former Director, Democratic Audit) Neal Lawson (Chair, Compass) and Chair Naomi Smith (SLF) debate the merits, mechanisms and pitfalls of the party detaching from the coalition. Further meetings will tackle on alternative economic strategies and ethical reforms to British business. The former will be debated at a fringe jointly sponsored by the PCS union on Sunday evening entitled ‘Austerity isn’t working: there is an alternative – creating sustainable jobs and growth’ and featuring Mark Serwotka, economist Ann Pettifor, Mike Tuffrey and yours truly, with SLF’s Janice Turner chairing.

The latter will be explored at an SLF/High Pay Centre event on Monday night chaired by Deborah Hargreaves, at which Sir Michael Darrington (former CEO, Greggs), Lord Oakeshott , Catherine Howarth (CEO, FairPensions) and Simon Caulkin (writer on business ethics) will set out ‘How to move towards a more ethical capitalism’ by ‘rebuilding trust in business and creating good companies.’ Details of venues etc can be found on the Social Liberal Forum website, where you can also find details of the SLF’s inaugural dinner, to be addressed by Andrew George and Steve Webb  – tickets still available!

These fringe meetings chime with Hughes’ views on how the electorate will judge us – the Lib Dems must work on both the policies and the politics of delivering a fair, sustainable prosperity.

A similar theme permeates the main conference agenda, with motions on housing, inequality, sources of sustainable prosperity and workplace democracy, directly addressing the most salient anxieties facing millions today. The motions mostly set out a distinctive stance on these issues, but here I feel I must disagree with Simon. In the article cited above, Simon is convinced that the coalition must adhere to its economic Plan A, based on an inflexible and ineffective deficit reduction strategy. But if the electorate will judge us on where our economic track record, we simply must look beyond yet more spending cuts to provide the kick-start we need.

As the motions on inequality, housing, sustainable prosperity, science policy and workplace democracy argue, we need an economic strategy that fosters investment, innovation, skills and a fair distribution of power, risk and reward. Members of the Social Liberal Forum agree entirely with these aims as set out in the motions above, arguing simply that if some of the reforms needed have short-run fiscal implications we shouldn’t overlook them purely in the interests of sticking to George Osborne’s failing dogma.

Whether on the fringe on in the main hall, the economic direction of travel set by a coalition with Liberal Democrats at its heart will dominate conference. As I said, #IAgreeWithSimon that voters will watch our stewardship of the economy very closely, which is why I and others will argue strongly in favour of a more effective, fair, social liberal approach to economic policy. See you in Brighton!

* Prateek Buch is Director of the Social Liberal Forum and serves on the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee

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3 Comments

  • There’s a lot of tosh from Hughes in the article linked. On current trends we can only hope that voters won’t judge us on the effects of Tory economic policy compared to other countries (especially those with their own central banks). See http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/03/29/compare-how-the-uk-and-usa-recovered-from-recession/ and http://static5.businessinsider.com/image/4f986cf7ecad049a6f000010-590/chart-of-the-day-real-gdp-rebased-to-100-in-2003-april-2012.jpg

  • The problem with Simon’s analysis is that in 1997 the voters rated the Tories as better to run the economy than Labour. Didn’t do them much good.

  • I am also far from certain, even if the figures overall look better, whether the way people feel will be better, and whether people will be in the mood to “thank” the Government parties. I still feel that the likeliest polling outcome is that the electorate will blame Lib Dems – mainly for not putting forward strongly their different and separate point of view, and, depending on whether or not the majority feeling is that Labour or the Tories should be more backed, will either not vote tactically anti Tory for us, or say they may as well vote for a “proper” Tory. Either way, hammering us. If, as Farage is trying to maintain in today’s Grauniad, UKIP does well in the 2014 Euros, that could put pressure on our 3rd place in 2015 – if that is indeed when the GE takes place. I think Simon’s expressed view linked to here is mainly wishful thinking.

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