2021 – the year in review: September

I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Party conferences – I’m not a policy wonk nor am I a frequent speaker, no more than half a dozen times over more than thirty years – but I appreciate that, for many, there’s something about being surrounded by your fellow Liberal Democrats that inspires and encourages.

But if politics is about changing lives for the better, it wasn’t a bad conference. Abolishing conversion therapy may not impact directly on many, but for those it does affect, it is life changing. Building more houses, especially more affordable housing, will enable many to find long-term solutions and build stability. And challenging the causes of violence against women offers greater freedom to half of the population.

You might reasonably argue that all of these issues are about freedom to live one’s life as one chooses, removing unfair limits put in place by others and, in a similar vein, Fraser Graham made an elegant intervention on liberty, equality and diversity in the debate on “What Liberal Democrats believe”. This was followed by discussion on Party strategy going forward, as Caron reported.

Beyond Conference, the world plodded slowly, occasionally falteringly on. A shortage of lorry drivers led the Government to offer short-term visas to the very people they had earlier told were superfluous. Michal Siewniak rather neatly summed up why that was unlikely to work, whilst Chris Perry offered some more long-term solutions to this and the similar problems in the social care sector.

Vaccine passports continued to generate disagreement, with the supposedly “nanny-statist” Liberal Democrats opposing them in some rather disagreeable company. Were we right? Was it a popular stance to take? The answers to both questions weren’t immediately positive, as public opinion has generally been pretty cautious over the past two years, but any stance is either liberal or it isn’t, and I tend to think that the Party’s stance has been pretty coherent, even where I personally don’t share it.

Hilton Marlton made a plea for a genuinely Welsh voice for the Party, which struck a chord with some, whilst Katharine Pindar offered up what she described as a distinctly Liberal viewpoint.

I offered up some thoughts on our comments policy and how moderation operates in practice. And, whilst it is nice to hear from some of you telling us why we’re so very wrong, there was little meaningful input sufficient to persuade us to change much.

Local government by-elections offered little in the way of new success until the end of the month, when we gained a seat on Eden District Council from the Conservatives and regained a seat lost through defection on Swale District Council but we did successfully defend seats in East Devon, South Lakeland and Newcastle, whilst there were valiant near misses in Sheffield and Sunderland.

As for the opinion polls, Labour had a brief renaissance but it didn’t survive the month. That said, the polls were closing a little;

Conservatives 38%, Labour 33%, Liberal Democrats 9%, Greens 9%

Clearly, the Conservatives were nervous, with a Cabinet reshuffle intended to reassure the public that they were still in control of the pandemic response. Would that, and the booster programme, do the trick?…

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