Conference preview: Saturday and Sunday

This year, the Liberal Democrat autumn conference has one day per theme, covering jobs, education, environment and tax.

Saturday is education day, with David Laws giving a keynote speech. For many party members he is more respected than trusted; recognised for his skills yet leaving people uneasy over quite what a David Laws manifesto would look like or whether it was right to bring him back into government this year. Saturday is his big chance to win over members.

If he chooses to take it, that is – as there are others who want to see him take a more confrontational approach, pulling and pushing the party into a greater emphasis on diversity of educational suppliers and freedoms for those suppliers, with a much less role for local councils as educational providers. Much therefore to watch out for in his speech.

The related education motion is very much in the mainstream of previous party education policy, putting a particular emphasis on supporting vocational education and also more support for the most disadvantaged children early in life. (The Liberal Democrat version of predistribution, as it were – tackling more of the causes of inequality before they start having their damaging effects.)

Saturday also sees the Federal Conference Committee report, an opportunity for those unhappy with conference accreditation policies to raise the issue – although much of the heat on that is likely to be displaced to this autumn’s round of party committee elections.

The evening rally is entitled, “Jobs, Education, Environment, Tax”. On message if not quite snappy.

One fringe meeting particularly worth a mention is the Liberal Democrat Forum for Africa’s networking event at 10pm. The possible benefits to the party from more and better bodies such as this has often been talked about. It’s great to see the work Michael Bukola and colleagues are doing with developing this one.

Alas, I won’t be there as there is an even better clashing event – the illustrious, glamorous prize-giving festival of delight that is the Blog of the Year Awards 2012. From 10pm in the Grand Hotel, Pavilion Room.

On Sunday, it’s the turn of the environment, with a keynote speech from Ed Davey, plus also Nick Clegg’s traditional Q&A session in the main hall. People will be listening closely for exactly what words Davey uses on topics such as wind power and nuclear, whilst Clegg usually gives at least one less than good-tempered answer in the Q&A sessions – making them rather more interesting than if all the answers were safely bland.

Sunday also sees Tim Farron’s speech and a motion on welfare. The text itself is carefully worded, mixing praise for some of the steps secured in government (such as the introduction of universal credit), criticism of Labour’s heavy involvement of private companies and implied attacks on the Conservatives. Speeches in the debate (and possibly amendments tabled) are likely to be much less muted, making this one of the conference flashpoints over relations with the Conservatives and how coalition is going.

The aviation motion is likely to see controversial issues aired, whilst the important – and also controversial, though not partisan – issue of medically assisted dying is debated amongst the other motions due that day.

Looking at the fringe, I suspect a lot of readers will be interested in the Department of Election and Skill’s lunchtime slot on the future of campaigning and Sunday evening sees the Lib Dem Voice fringe meeting on the 2015 manifesto. It also sees The Voice‘s own Nick Thornsby chair a fringe on tax policy with David Laws, Stephen Williams, Paul Johnson (IFS) and Ben Page (Ipsos Mori).

One footnote to Sunday – the party business includes the first of the new style report backs from the Federal Appeals Panel. Good news.

This is of course not a comprehensive summary of all the motions being debated, and depending on your interested the most important one may not be listed above. So it’s well worth taking a look through the full Brighton conference agenda and directory, which also has details of the time and place for the fringes.

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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This entry was posted in Conference.


  • Is there not a motion being called of No Confidence in Nick Clegg?

    Can such a motion be called at conference as an emergency motion? Just intrigued

  • And, of course, he is also not respected by many, for his actions over his accommodation expenses.

  • Tony Dawson 20th Sep '12 - 7:46pm

    About 13 years ago, I attended the Lib Dem conference in Brighton. In fact, I (with the help of a great group of volunteers) edited the last ever conference gazette which went out daily throughout the conference. Then, on my way home, I stopped off in North Manchester to help in the local by election which saw Qazim Afzal elected as a Lib Dem councillor for Cheetham Hill. Ah! them were t’days.

    Conference these days is a sycophantic slush-fest, a procession of adulation of the ‘great and good’. What relevance does it have when it is ‘bounced’ by premature Parliamentary announcements of pseudo-Tory policies?

  • Simon Titley 20th Sep '12 - 8:07pm

    We would do better with our education policy if we paid less attention to David Laws’s doctrinaire economism and more attention to this:

  • @Simon Titley

    Isn’t it funny how both sides often use Finland as something to aim for – yet neither side seems to want to discuss why you can’t duplicate the various elements.

  • Simon Titley 20th Sep '12 - 9:14pm

    @Chris_sh – The report to which you link essentially argues that Finland’s success is also due to socio-cultural factors, not merely to the educational system, and consequently cannot necessarily be replicated elsewhere. That doesn’t invalidate Finland’s success; rather, it means that any country seeking to improve its educational perfomance must also pay attention to the broader social and cultural context. In the UK, amongst other things, that means confronting the (social) class system.

    The problem with David Laws is that his outlook is economistic. He believes in the reductionist idea that all social facts can be reduced to economic dimensions, and that the market trumps all other values, hence his insistence on imposing market ideology on educational policy. Finland is relevant here because it demonstrates that other moral standpoints are not only possible but also successful.

  • @Simon Titley
    “That doesn’t invalidate Finland’s success; ”
    I never actually said it did, it obviously works well for their Country, If you want to look at a Country to see how things could be done better then perhaps Germany would be a better choice (if the report is correct, then they are making real improvements). They are far closer to where we are than Finland (in terms of population density and immigration), they are also probably a lot closer to where we want to be with regard to industry.

    Incidentally, did you actually read the comments from the Finns.

    One question if I may, ” In the UK, amongst other things, that means confronting the (social) class system.” What do you mean by that and why have you put it in front of the Q ahead of the “other things”.

  • Chris_sh – and Germany has a selective system.

    If you confront the class system you are doomed to failure. You have to work with the grain of society.

  • @Tabman
    “If you confront the class system you are doomed to failure. You have to work with the grain of society.”

    Well that’s more or less what my thought was, if you want to do something about class then you need an evolutionary approach, not a revolution. Part of that evolution is obtaining an excellent education system, so (imho) it would seem to be putting the cart before the horse. That’s why I’m curious as to why Simon used that particular item.

    PS, how did the youngster get on with the paper? 🙂

  • ROB SHEFFIELD 21st Sep '12 - 9:02am

    Once the next election is over Laws will join the Tories.

  • Simon Titley 21st Sep '12 - 11:35am

    @Chris_sh – You ask why I consider the class system such an important factor. It’s because it’s the worst thing about Britain. It does more to blight people’s lives than anything else. It rewards mediocrity among the privileged and denies life chances to those less privileged.

    Unlike you and Tabman, I do not share the view that the class system is a given that we must accept . Such a fatalistic attitude is the true voice of a conservative.

    The Liberal Democrats need to put the idea of life chances front and centre of their policies – see chapter 7 of ‘Really Facing the Future’:

  • @Simon Titley
    “Unlike you and Tabman, I do not share the view that the class system is a given that we must accept”
    Umm, well I didn’t actually say that we should just accept it did I.

    “It does more to blight people’s lives than anything else. It rewards mediocrity among the privileged and denies life chances to those less privileged.”

    That is one huge generalisation, but it still doesn’t really answer the question as to why the class issue needs to be confronted in order to produce a world beating education system.

    I had already read your document, which is the reason for the question. In that document you claim that LDs should be fairly relaxed about the emergence of new schools (although you do give a general purpose cop out clause for publicly funded ones). If a competitor to Eton set up a new type of school for the super rich, you’d be quite happy for the privileged to gain an advantage by going there, that pretty much blows your confrontation comment out of the water.

    If you create a top notch education system then the need for private schools diminishes as more well off parents will opt to use the public sector. Hence my comment about the whole class issue should be based on evolution, there’s no point in wailing about the privileged, rendering clothes and calling for revolution, allow a system to evolve that causes the extinction of the institutions that help create the class. The cause isn’t really helped either by dispersing propaganda, if you want to follow some of the Finnish model be honest about what can and can not be done, then be honest and explain why you don’t want to follow other (possibly) more appropriate nations.

  • Chris_sh “If you create a top notch education system then the need for private schools diminishes as more well off parents will opt to use the public sector.”

    Up until the mid 1970s the number of pupils in private education was in decline, to a low of 4%. It’s now 7% and growing despite a recession and years of above inflation fee rises. Yes, some parents are looking for class segregation, but by no means all. They are in the main either looking for selective schools that will stretch their children or attention for children who will struggle in large anonymous schools.

    Now, remind me what happened in the mid 1970s …

  • @tabman
    “Now, remind me what happened in the mid 1970s ”

    You wouldn’t, by chance, be referring to the Education Act 1976?

  • Perchance I may well be … the Sutton Trust has some excellent research on all this.

  • @tabman

    Thanks – I think my reading list has just suddenly grown immense, time for a cuppa to get over the shock 😉

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