How much will coalition change Liberal Democrat conference?

Party conference rumour season is well underway, with more special guest speculation than last month’s Glastonbury. But whoever’s doing the briefing, it doesn’t seem to be coming from the Liberal Democrat side.

The story that David Cameron might address Lib Dem conference seems to have originated from the Independent:

David Cameron and Nick Clegg are drawing up plans for closer links between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and senior figures from the two parties will address each other’s party conference this autumn.

The two leaders are keen to cement the coalition and a special meeting of the Cabinet next month will discuss a joint approach to the party conference season, including co-ordinated policy announcements. One option is for Mr Cameron to address the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool and Mr Clegg the Tories in Birmingham. More likely, at present, is that other Cabinet ministers will “change places” and speak at their coalition partner’s event.

The Guardian also ran a similar story the same day: David Cameron could speak at Liberal Democrat conference.

– Well, yes he could,* but here are some things to consider:

  • The Liberal Democrat Federal Conference Committee hasn’t invited Mr Cameron to speak. This decision rests with them alone, they’re elected by the members, and are there to represent our party, not the Conservatives. There’s been no appetite among Lib Dem members to have David Cameron addressing Lib Dem conference, and FCC have received no request to invite him.
  • Nor has Nick Clegg received an invitation to speak at Conservative Party Conference in October, although anecdotally I’ve heard that Nick would be well-received by many Tory members.
  • Following Special Conference, FCC are well aware of the need for Conference to represent the needs and wishes of party members, rather than the press’s desire for set-pieces. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have entered a coalition, not an alliance, and still have business of their own to discuss at their separate conferences.
  • The Liberal Democrats need to hold their own ministers to account – so the final day of Conference will be rounded off with a “Cabinet Q & A” session. This will take place just before a closing speech by party President Ros Scott. (Nick Clegg will be representing Britain at the Millennium Development Goals summit in the UN in New York that day, so will make his Leader’s Speech on Monday September 20.)
  • David Cameron’s wife Samantha is expecting a baby around the time of Liberal Democrat Conference, and although due dates are difficult to predict accurately, it’s difficult for a dad to make firm diary commitments around a baby’s due date. Thus it’s even less likely that David Cameron will make the trip to Liverpool.
  • Security at Lib Dem conference will be tighter this year, and if any Conservative ministers attend as well, that will add to the cost. Meetings have taken place between Merseyside Police and members of the Federal Conference Committee to discuss security arrangements, but details will not be made public.
  • Notwithstanding the last point: fringe events are a good place for speakers from other parties to appear; this has been done before, and plans are certainly afoot for this to happen again (watch this space for details).
  • From the policy point of view, the Liberal Democrats will continue to form policy at Conference, with party members debating and voting on motions. The least ambitious way to look at Lib Dem policy formation at the moment is with a view to feeding it into the 2015 manifesto. Traditionally that’s what we’ve done. The interesting question is how to get Conference-grown policy to feed into Government policy.

So, plus ça change? It will be fascinating to witness the biggest Lib Dem gathering since the General Election, and the first Conference since the Special one on 16 May. No doubt the Coalition will be keenly discussed on the Fringe, as well as in the Hall, and Lib Dem Voice will be there throughout.

* just as the Lib Dem Voice Ukulele orchestra could do a turn at Glee Club with Diamonds are Forever…

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11 Comments

  • Having the Tories speak at Conference would send the absolute wrong message, as the poster notes, that we are in an alliance. I am starting to really question the thinking of the leadership if they think that this might have been a good idea.

  • Excellent article Helen – I know how long you have spent researching it! Don’t forget that the cheap rate for conference ends today 🙂

  • Tony Hutson 28th Jul '10 - 2:19pm

    Excellent article indeed. I would be appalled if Cameron or any Tories turne up on the conference platform. If they are invited to a fringe meeting, that’s fine. But the LibDem conference is the LibDem conference. We should NOT have Tories speaking from the platform as part of conference business. This coalition is not the same as the SDP/Liberal Alliance or anything like it.

    We managed to go through 8 years of coalition with Labour in Scotland without attending each other’s conferences. It’s not an issue.

  • I agree with Tony. Ministers etc attending fringe events is fine, but not addressing conference. And I’m pretty sure that the Tories would feel the same too.

  • Don’t you just enjoy that instead of the usual (almost complete) media indifference to the LibDem conference there are now serious non-party newspapers which print rumours about the possible conference programme weeks ahead of the event? My, how times have changed.

    That said, when I heard about the idea that the party leaders woult speak to the coalition partners’ conferences, I was horrified, since I really think that it would send the wrong message. A party which has to make sure that it defines its identity very clearly, and very clearly apart from the Conservatives obviously couldn’t do that. Good to hear that indeed, the podium will belong to LibDems….

  • Patrick Smith 28th Jul '10 - 10:11pm

    As a firm supporter of merit for the people from progressive Liberal political reforms via the `Coalition Agreement’ I agree with those who do not want to see the Tories speak to the main Liberal Democrat Conference .But since there is a `Coalition Government’ it makes sense to have key Tory contributors on the Fringe and vica versa.

    The Conference will clearly encourage further debate and Q and A`s from our delegates on the most important question of balance and liberal progress via the policies being made possible for implementation via the `Coalition Agreement’.

  • Andrew Wiseman 29th Jul '10 - 8:26am

    Helen is spot on about Cameron (or any other Conservative Minister) addressing a main session of conference. FCC have said that it will not happen in Liverpool. The agenda has just gone to the printers and I saw the final proofs – he did not feature!

    Discussions are on-going in terms of security (I have two more meetings with the police planned in the next week). Once the final details have been agreed we will ensure that all reps are updated. Whatever is finally agreed there will be an increased level of bag searching and security which will take longer to get through.

    Andrew

    Andrew Wiseman
    Chair, Federal Conference Committee

  • Helen Duffett 30th Jul '10 - 3:33am

    Ohoho be careful what you wish for, Richard…

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