Lib Dem conference 2010: open thread #ldconf

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The thousands of Lib Dem members who made it to Liverpool this week for the party conference will be arriving home now, probably tired, in need of a healthy square meal, and perhaps a tad hungover. Here’s your opportunity to tell Voice readers what you made of it all: the highlights (and any lowpoints), the surprises (and disappointments)… in fact, anything you like.

The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow, who’s been live-blogging the conference all week, has set out his ’10 things I’ve learned from the Lib Dem conference’ here (you’ll need to scroll a bit down the page). They’re well worth a read, but here’s 3 I’ve picked out:

1. The Lib Dems have made up their minds about the coalition – and they like it. Journalists came to Liverpool expecting to find evidence of a grassroots backlash against Nick Clegg’s decision to go into coalition with the Tories. Well, forget it. There have been grumbles, but (this week) they have been inconsequential. In so far as you can say what the party as a whole thinks, it’s broadly happy with the coalition, and expects it to last.

4. The Lib Dems understand coalition politics better than the media. Westminster journalists like are often asking the Lib Dems how they will fight an election against the Tories after five years of coalition. Lib Dems are genuinely bemused by this. They point out that this is not a problem in Scotland, Wales, local government or continental Europe – all places where three-party politics is more entrenched than Westminster. At a fringe meeting last night, Ashdown asked delegates to put their hands up if they had shared power with another party. Dozens of them responded. Then he asked if anyone in that group had had a problem fighting an election against their coalition partners. No one thought it was an issue.

9. Lib Dem delegates don’t necessarily decide policy any more. The Lib Dems are more democratic than the other parties. For years, conference really has decided policy. But this week delegates have been passing motions which, although technically party policy, will not decide what the government does. Whether or not a conference motion influences the coalition will depend on whether or not Clegg fights for it at the cabinet table.

But, agree or disagree, all 10 are well worth a read. Anyway, over to you…

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15 Comments

  • Vince Cable stole the show. Star of the Conference.

  • Grammar Police 22nd Sep '10 - 9:53pm

    Richard and Erica Kemp (Liverpool councillors) were pretty amazing at an ALDC fringe.

  • Cheltenham Robin 22nd Sep '10 - 10:27pm

    “although technically party policy, will not decide what the government does”

    So not much change there then really.

  • @MatGB- er, and since WHEN has anything voted on at Lib Dem conference ever influenced government policy?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 23rd Sep '10 - 9:02am

    MatGB

    On that basis, Lib Dem party policy would become entirely academic, especially considering that MPs aren’t even meant to speak against coalition policy on many issues.

    In your picture of the future, party policy would be relevant only in the short period between the manifesto being published and the manifesto being thrown in the bin during negotiations with the Tories behind closed doors. If that’s your view of party democracy, I think it’s an extremely strange one.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 23rd Sep '10 - 11:58am

    “It’s my view of PArliamentary democracy Anthony, and it’s not at all strange, it’s how things work. Conference cannot, and should not, mandate MPs to do something they haven’t got the backing of their electorate for.”

    What a curious thing to say.

    Of course, legally, no one can “mandate” an MP to do anything, whether it has the backing of the electorate or not, and whether it has been in a party manifesto or not. No one has suggested otherwise.

    But it’s quite another thing to suggest that Lib Dem MPs should be entirely free to disregard party policies they don’t like. And when you suggest policies should become effective only after a subsequent election, and only if they are included in the manifesto, then I think you really are misunderstanding how things work. Manifestos have never been considered binding except on parties that won majorities. That is, after all, why both the coalition parties were able to bin large parts of their manifestos within days of the election!

    Of course, it’s the coalition agreement that will force the parliamentary party to disregard the decisions of the party conference, not any grandiose principle of “parliamentary democracy.”

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Sep '10 - 2:25pm

    On this occasion I agree with MatGB. I am disturbed by the evolution of a Leninist model of party politics in this country, where policy development is done within a political party and then it is assumed that party is mandated to pass it all through as a five-year plan if it wins a majority.

    The party manifesto as it exists now is a very recent thing. Only a few decades ago, party manifestos were short statements of aims and objectives, not lengthy detailed policy documents. If we are moving to an age when coalitions become more usual, lengthy detailed policy document don’t make sense anyway, since policy will be arrived at by negotiation in the coalition anyway.

    The main job of a political party is to enable people to club together and choose one of their number to stand for political office. In this way, people of modest means can become politicians – it breaks the stranglehold of wealth and influence that would otherwise exist even in a nominally democratic structure if to achieve success you needed to use your own wealth. Clearly, people banding together in this way will generally have a common set of aims and objectives. Also by getting to know each other, they will learn who amongst their number is best suited to be put forward, and also find who they can trust amongst their number who will keep to those aims and objectives even when they move into the higher reaches of power.

    However, true liberal and democratic politics is about representatives coming together and thinking themselves, and interacting so that policy can be developed in the elected assembly which has the support of a majority there. This is very different from the Leninist model, in which policy is developed in the party, and the assembly is just a rubber stamp mechanism. Because we are not Leninists, we must be absolutely clear that our party cannot mandate MPs elected in its name. But how far politics in this country has gone down the Leninist route is shown by the way so many people just can’t comprehend how a coalitions should work, and leads to many of the silly things that have been said since this one was formed.

    In modern terminology, the party exists as a “brand name”. Of course electors in general will not personally know its candidates – the whole point was to break the necessity for individual fame and wealth. They should, however, be able to trust the good name the party has developed and so be able reasonably to suppose the candidates it put forward will work for its aims and objectives. But this is not “brand name” in the modern top-down view of business where a brand name is owned by a company and a company is run by a CEO passing down orders.

    It is of extreme importance, therefore, that the members of the party should be protective of its good name and reputation. Without it, they are nothing, simply an unprincipled band of power seekers. For this reason, they should make all effort to ensure the candidates they put forward are people they can trust. They also have the power to withdraw that name from any elected member who has it. If we are to oppose Leninist style politics, as I think we should, then it is this withdrawal of our name from those elected in that name who do not then stick to what we put them forward for which is our principle way of keeping integrity and defending our aims and purposes. Such people may continue as elected members of the assembly, but they must seek re-election on their own or under another name when their term ends and if they wish to stand again.

    So, in opposition to Leninist style politics, such withdrawal of support for those put forward to office must be accepted as a standard procedure, not denounced as some sort of weakness. Those elected in a liberal and democratic party’s name should expect to have to justify themselves before its members. Of course we accept that compromise to find workable policy that has majority support is central to democracy, this sort of negotiation and compromise is what we would expect those we put forward who get elected to the assembly to be doing. However, if they cannot satisfy the party’s members that they have done all they can to further the party’s aims and objectives, the party should feel free to say “You have not acted as you should in our name, therefore we withdraw our name from you”.

    A liberal and democratic party should, therefore, have a culture where this inquisition of those elected to public office in its name is standard procedure, as is withdrawal from them of that name. It MUST therefore have a culture in which there is no fear of “leaders” or dictation from them. It must dispose of all those trappings which encourages this sort of Leninist/fascist style of politics. It is sad that UK politics has evolved so far from the true liberal and democratic model of political party that what I am saying at this point now sounds outlandish. It is against all the cult of celebrity and power that has become so dominant in our society. Well, so be it. I am a Liberal, and I am against that sort of thing.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 23rd Sep '10 - 3:46pm

    “Because we are not Leninists, we must be absolutely clear that our party cannot mandate MPs elected in its name.”

    It’s amazing how much time and effort some people are willing to expend in arguing against opinions that no one has expressed.

  • Patrick Smith 23rd Sep '10 - 5:13pm

    The Liverpool Conference was the best and biggest so far ever with well over 10,000 delegates expressing their views on principled Liberal policies now being put through `Coalition Government’ by the talented array of L/D Ministers under the skilled leadership of Nick Clegg..

    I rate the speeches and Q and A`s by the DPM and on Justice Q and A`s as transparent and open that vindicate any notion that there is plenty of trenchant scrunity on the floor by our discerning Members.

    My own busy tours of fringe and events stalls took me to the excellent `Mums’ stall and it was international news that our Leader was speaking to over 186 global representatives, at the UN from in NY on the campaign to strengthen and extend the Millenium goals to reduce the mortality of women in childbirth.

    I asked at the Times fringe `Liberal Democrats and Voters’ `If the media were now on a learning curve since the L/D`s were in Government after a wait of some 65 years with first Cabinet responsibility, since Sir Archibald Sinclair was Minister of Air, in 1945?’

    I ask that the DPM continues to travel around the grassroots corners of the UK and northern cities making his `Meet Nick Clegg at the Town Hall’ visits to all members,fellow travellers and to future liberal voters.

    I anticipate that membership will zoom upwards with the momentum from the excellent liberal principles now punctuated in law in `Coalition Government’ nailed to the mast, in keynote speeches in Conference, by Vince Cable,Lord Tom McNally on Justice,Lynn Featherstone on `Equalities’ et al and Sarah Teather on `Pupil Premium’ implementation.

    Nick Clegg spoke so resolutely and trenchantly on his beliefs on jobs and said that `work was the engine of social progress’, `Fair Votes’ and `Fair Taxes’ and the abolition of ID Cards and Contact Point and firm assurances that no child would be held in transit at any immigration detention centre at all..

    This was a very successful Conference containing a palpable sense of challenging democratic debate in all parts of the ACC.

    It was a privilege to question our L/D Ministers at every turn, on shared liberal values on behalf of our local residents.

    Our new L/D Ministers not as doctrinal ambassadors to pay down the £156 B `national deficit’ – the cornerstone of the breaking the mould five year `Coalition Agreement’ but as those delivering Liberal reform in Government not experienced since 1922.

    The L/D Ministers are now liberal agents of reform and economic progess and `Delivery for Britain’ and most importantly they are the harbingers of a fairer sense of birthright for the worst off and vulnerable people on AV , fairer tax and freedom and new opportunity for children with the epoch making `Pupil Premium’ in the classroom.

  • David Allen 23rd Sep '10 - 5:54pm

    “The Lib Dems have made up their minds about the coalition – and they like it. ”

    In an edgy, febrile, slightly baffled, and more than slightly ostrich-headed sort of way, yes. Vince has delivered a short-term emotional stimulus package. Lib Dem reaction has been strangely similar to the way Gordon Brown reacted to a short-term economic stimulus package.

    When the cuts bite, when we begin to see the sharp-elbowed rich take advantage of privatised schools and hospitals while the weak go to the wall, that mood will disappear. Sadly, our credibility will by then be shot, so, when we eventually do turn against the coalition, our poll ratings will simply stay on rock-bottom.

    The Cleggites will then point out to the rest of the party that we are trapped in the coalition, that we cannot afford to do anything that might precipitate an election, and that if we don’t want to be wiped off the map, we had better just hang on in there, and hope that by 2015 something will have turned up.

    Cameron, meanwhile, will quietly note the weakness of our bargaining position. So will the Tory Right. We will be Cameron’s prisoners, and we will be treated accordingly. Except for the “trusties”, of course!

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