Fridays are never terribly exciting at a Spring Conference. They’re all about consultative sessions and, lest we forget, the Rally, generally aimed at kick-starting the campaign towards whichever elections are less than two months away, this year the Counties. Media coverage is slight, if any, and past headlines have included Sarah Teather’s unexpectedly risque sense of humour and… well, you get the point. The media generally prefer to run their message of crisis in the ranks and challenges to the leadership. They may have it right this year.
After Tim Farron’s interview in The House magazine, it will be interesting to see what he has to say for himself this evening, and hopefully, we’ll be covering this for a waiting world.
So, what else is happening today?
There are five consultative sessions, starting at 3 p.m., as the process of producing the 2015 manifesto accelerates. The five groups will be discussing defence, education and skills, Europe, political and constitutional reform and tax – all of which will be core issues in two years time. Here are some questions that need answering;
- Assuming that non-renewal of Trident is a given, what shape will our future defence capacity take? What, indeed, are our forces for? Is there a future for broader European co-operation?
- If the pupil premium is established, what other steps can you take to improve performance amongst the most disadvantaged pupils? Where next on tuition fees? Is it viable to maintain access to further education at current levels?
- In an apparently ever-increasingly sceptical electorate, how do you sell the notion of positive engagement with our European partners, and what sort of Europe do we actually want?
- If you can’t persuade the Conservatives to reform the House of Lords, or change the voting system, should you try again, or is there something else – STV for local government in England and Wales, perhaps?
- Alright, you’ve taken more than two million people out of the income tax bracket. How do you continue to incentivise those now working but earning less than the tax threshold? What behaviours do you want to encourage? How can you simplify the current overly-complex tax regime?
Competing for attention on the fringes, the Social Liberal Forum probably win, as Vince Cable will speaking about promoting economic growth and, as noted by Bill le Breton yesterday, it offers a chance to find out what he’s got in mind, up close and personal.
Elsewhere, EMLD seek to ensure that, in the midst of the debate over alleged sexual harassment, that issues surrounding race equality are not forgotten. But what if you’re of mixed race? Liberal Youth, meanwhile, look at an issue that is becoming increasingly urgent, that of access to the property ladder, and how young people find affordable housing.
And finally, for those of you who yearn for the glory days of liberalism, the Liberal Democrat History Group team up with the Lloyd George Society to examine his legacy.
* Mark Valladares can’t be in Brighton, and is beginning to find daytime television really annoying.