Conference: First pictures

It’s that time of year again, folks. Doesn’t it come round quickly? And each year more glorious than the last. Yes it’s:


Arrr. This should make for some interesting speeches from the platform at Bournemouth.

Mark and Alex have already started reporting direct from the Lib Dem Cupboard this morning, which is as luxurious as ever:


I, meanwhile, can’t be in Bournemouth, so I will be your host on the home front, scanning the papers for coverage (with a telescope. Arrr), stealing gossip and jokes from people’s twitterstreams and generally jumping up and down on the sidelines.

A quick note on the agenda

Dr Pack has already pointed out the day’s highlights, but I’ll just add a note on  the Real Women policy motion which will be debated this afternoon – Bernard Salmon wrote here yesterday about his amendment to this paper, and I do recommend you read the fiery-but-friendly discussion in the comments. I hope the debate itself is a quarter as good. Has Bernard’s amendment been selected for debate today? Only a brightly coloured piece of paper in Bournemouth can tell us, and I don’t have one. Anybody?

Twittery stuff

In the manner of intrepid frontline reporters everywhere, many Lib Dems marked their arrival on the scene in Bournemouth yesterday by, er, taking pictures of their hotel rooms and posting them on Twitpic. Is this how the world-changing photo-coverage of the Crimea began? Is that how it will end? Only time will tell, but I also note that Sandra Gidley’s sofa has travelled down with her and had an evening stroll on the beach where it bumped into Lloyd Harris, and “occasionally smutty” BOTY-shortlisted blogger Costigan Quist has discovered his hotel suits him perfectly.

Those scurvy barnacles in Fleet Street

The Guardian are leading with savage cuts:

As the three main parties begin the conference season with competing proposals for how they would make spending cuts, Clegg used a Guardian interview to set out plans including a long-term freeze in the public sector pay bill, scaling back future public sector pensions, and withdrawing tax credits from the middle class. He is even prepared to examine means-testing universal child benefits, though he is cautious of destroying “middle-class solidarity” with the welfare state.

“I find it odd that people on multi-million pay packages from the city get child benefit. That’s patently silly and patently unfair,” he says.

Clegg predicts that voters will show Gordon Brown the exit at the general election, and pleads with Labour not to hold a referendum on electoral reform on the same day, saying it will set back the case by 20 years. “Anything that Gordon Brown proposes now will turn to dust,” he says.

Polly Toynbee has a point (no, really) when she wonders exactly how we’re going to scoop up Labour voters without turning into a bunch of Marxists (not her precise wording, but you get my drift. Nick Clegg’s answer in his main Guardian interview piece is implacable however:

The broad message is that the Lib Dems believe that 12 years of Labour has shown that a “social democratic impulse” has not worked. They can replace Labour not by being Labour, or by being left, but by being progressive, Clegg says.

But former Labour voters may be in for a shock: “They need to rethink themselves a bit as well and understand that I’m not offering them just another reheated version of big state socialism, but the reverse. It’s based on a criticism of big state socialism.”

The Times, meanwhile, warns its readers that the Lib Dems are about to turn into great big meanies, and that the meanie-in-chief will be Chris Huhne:

Nick Clegg has created an anti-Tory attack unit which will focus Liberal Democrat firepower on exposing George Osborne’s “complete inexperience”.

In an interview with The Times, Chris Huhne said that specialist staff will be seconded to the new group, which he will chair and will include all the party’s most effective attack dogs, including Norman Baker, Norman Lamb and Lord Oakeshott.

Well, I’m not sure what they’ll do to the enemy, but etc. Arrr. What do people think about all these military metaphors? Necessary to modern politics? Or a turn-off to the ordinary voter?

And now, back to the cupboard studio…

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  • Terry Gilbert 19th Sep '09 - 10:26am

    And what, pray, is wrong with Social Democracy? Is Clegg actively trying to get rid of people who used to be in the SDP? (I speak as one whose fist year Liberal membership renewal was not chased, who joined the SDP at university a few months later – perhaps a unique perspective?) I consider myself a social liberal (democrat rather goes without saying, I feel), and there is still a great deal in party policy which appeals to me. But Clegg does seem determined to move us away this, and thus from our core, middle class liberal support. It is not so much Labour supporters he is trying to remould, but that core of his own electorate. Complex alternatives to state provision in health and education will cause far more trouble that they would solve, both politically, and administratively, were they ever implemented. I predict that Clegg will be forced to trim substantially before the next General Election, or the result will be a reduction in our Parliamentary representation, which would be a disaster, after the steady upward trend under Ashdown and Kennedy.

  • Terry Gilbert 20th Sep '09 - 8:42am

    Oranjepan: ‘Creates a well balanced agenda?’ By keeping tuition fees? By talking about ‘savage’ cuts? Who’s being incoherent now?

    It seems to me that liberal democracy is fine (which is why I have been a Lib Dem since 1988 and jopined the Liberals in the first place), but most liberals are also for a progressive social policy. Spinning that we are dropping the ‘social’ element (which is what Clegg is doing – without putting it to a vote in the Hall) means that many Lib Dem MPs and potential MPs, especially in university seats (and not just because of tuition fees), will find life rather hard. We are alienating our core support. And all for nothing – our best chance of winning seats where the Tories are challenging us is to attract residual Labour support, not being being pale blue Tories.

  • Terry Gilbert 21st Sep '09 - 12:38am

    Oranje pan: Ludicrously overstated. This is exactly the sort of B***s*** party leaderships come up with to persuade the membership to accept undesirable policy change! Clegg is not announcing that he is abandoning a flagship principle like free education on the night before conference because he thinks there will be a complete meltdown of the global economy if he doesn’t. Even on his inflated costing (‘could’ cost ‘as much as’ £12bn – if you were really profligate), scrapping tuition fees amounts to less than 2% of public spending. A graduate tax could replace that, if necessary. No. He is doing this because he, and the other Orange (Oranje?) Bookers, want to. They are economic liberals who do not believe in the social case for free education, and believe it is right that people should pay for a decent education. As Alex has pointed out eleswhere on this blog, the policy change has been on the cards since well before the recession hit. Clegg is using this serious but actually rather short-lived recession – the Government has actually responded rather well to it – as an excuse. There are reforms, to banking and finacial regulation, etc. which you and I appear to agree are desirable, even necessary, to reduce the risk of future recession. But the immediate ‘savage’ cuts he is talking about may well plunge us even DEEPER into recession. I’m sure you are aware of Keynes’s multiplier effect?
    Politically, Clegg and his circle should remember Clause Four moments are less likely to work for leaders who are miles from power. Members/PPCs will not swallow this medicine like Labour swallowed theirs – because Clegg does not look close to delivering what Blair looked like delivering for Labour.
    If he keeps this up, he will be gone before the election!! He has managed to cover his retreat on tax cuts by saying they are unaffordable because of the recession, but it will be harder to cover his retreat over this. He has left himself some wiggle room, and he needs to back off, big time, and quickly, this week, before he gets a bloody nose and wrecks our chances in the country. (Charlie, anyone?)

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