While some of us were melting in the Friends Meeting House in Manchester at the Social Liberal Forum conference on Saturday morning, Stephen Tall was telling us about the leadership’s motion on the economy to be discussed at our Glasgow Conference in two months’ time.
It’s to be noted that the biggest cheers of the day came when Vince Cable was talking about the need to differentiate from the Conservatives, calling George Osborne’s declaration that there should be no more tax rises in a new Conservative Government “cavalier and “ideological.”
Co-chair Gareth Epps was also applauded when he said that Liberal Democrats should not go into the election defending and pledging to continue Osbornomics.
With that in mind, Social Liberal Forum have published their response to the economy motion on their website. They say:
… While Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander’s motion contains a number of positive messages and policies, it paints an overly-optimistic picture at a time when living standards continue to fall and recovery is fragile and unbalanced.
In Manchester, we heard a very clear message from our members: that the Liberal Democrats must bring forward a coherent alternative to George Osborne’s economic strategy. Since the formation of the Coalition Government in 2010 the SLF has consistently stated that the Liberal Democrats must maintain independence as a political party, and develop policies that are distinctive, radical and progressive.
While it is indeed important to highlight Liberal Democrat achievements in government, our 2015 Manifesto must look forward and not be bound by the previous Parliament in its scope. George Osborne’s dogmatic approach to reducing the deficit distorts economic recovery by curbing the ambition of the very policies promoted in the motion to be debated in Glasgow. Hence the Lib Dems must not endorse this particular approach to fiscal policy, a compromise made for the purposes of this coalition, as Party policy for the next election. The only party going into that election defending Osbornomics should be the Conservative Party.
In the coming weeks we will be listening to Party members, as we hope the movers of the motion will too, on this important debate. It is crucial that Liberal Democrats demonstrate we are capable of independent thought – the future of our Party, not to mention the British economy, depends on it.
The SLF are owed quite a lot. Last year, a very credible amendment was rejected by Federal Conference Committee in favour of one that was easier to defeat from Liberal Left. In Spring, an SLF Emergency Motion was not selected for debate despite coming second in the ballot. Yes, conference representatives had been warned that FCC had decided it would take both emergency motion slots, but Conference only narrowly defeated a call to suspend standing orders to overturn that decision.
Do we want to go into the election with an economic policy that we can all happily promote, or do we not? I’ve said on occasions too numerous to mention that the leadership needs to engage constructively with members and activists. It would be good if the next two months were spent in constructive debate to build a policy we can all feel happy with.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings