Liberal Democrats gather in Brighton this weekend, with Mike Thornton’s victory still fresh in our minds as evidence of our enduring tenacity as a campaigning force. But what will the people of Eastleigh, and places like it up and down the country, want to see a party of government discussing at this critical juncture? With the main conference agenda looking bland, the issues that matter most to voters are likely to feature on the fringe and in the guise of emergency motions – the state of the economy more so than any.
Figures published recently demonstrate that the health of the UK economy is deteriorating, along with the government’s finances. With a difficult budget imminent, and a Spending Review to follow, now is the time for our party to show how we feel macro-economic policy should change in response to the continued depression.
With no platform speech in the main agenda, Vince Cable will present a major speech on the economy entitled “How we get growing again – the road to 2015” at the Social Liberal Forum fringe meeting on Friday evening (details here). According to recent reports, Vince, and a number of other Ministers are anxious not to see further spending cuts to their already-stretched budgets – no doubt he will touch on that issue, among many others, at the fringe.
The Social Liberal Forum is also backing an emergency motion on the economy, seeking a change of course in macro-economic policy that would “not only reduce the structural deficit in the budget but take radical action to get growth going again with a bold Plan A+…”
There are likely to be a number of emergency motions tabled in Brighton. Without question, the most salient matter facing voters is the dire situation of the economy; so the most important issue for our party needs to be our plan for economic growth. People’s livelihoods and tomorrow’s prosperity depend on the decisions we make today. Debates on the rule of law, press regulation and competition in the NHS are undoubtedly worth having, and I for one would be happy to see much of the current agenda replaced with substantive discussion on all those things. Above all else, however, is the clear sense that we have some way to travel if we want a distinctive, independent position on the economy in 2015, and that the road must begin in Brighton.
* Prateek Buch is Director of the Social Liberal Forum and serves on the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee