Opinion: Nobody ever said government was easy

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I attended my first Liberal Party Conference at Blackpool in 1968, in the days when our MPs could all fit in a taxi, rather than needing a rather large bus. Work in education prevented me attending regularly again until 1998, but I have been at every autumn conference since.

For those with long memories, 1998 was the year of the community school motion when, despite an impassioned speech by Phil Willis, the leadership lost the day, just as they did with amendment 2 on Monday: more about that later.

When I arrived in Liverpool on Friday afternoon, I detected a palpable air of anxiety, fed by media insinuations of splits in the coalition. By Sunday, the conference seemed to relax, and by the end was positively enjoying itself. The larger numbers present, and the appearance of the sun may have helped the mood, but really it was the impressive display from some of our ministers and also the parliamentarians who are still on the back benches. We have more talent than the other two Parties put together. However, the change of mood is not to deny the fact that many members still have anxieties over the scale of the cuts.

If it turns out that ‘those with the broadest shoulders’ don’t bear the brunt of the cutbacks, then there will be trouble ahead. The values of the Party at large won’t tolerable ministers who don’t do everything in their power to prevent the poor from suffering disproportionally in our already badly divided society. I think that’s what Vince was trying to say in his splendid speech that was a cross between a Mansion House after-dinner oration and a comedy turn written for a speaker at a constituency dinner.

The fringes seemed fewer in number this year and more concentrated in to just two days. This was made up for by the vastly increased number of press buzzing around. Anyone who visited the BBC newsroom could have mistaken it for television centre or a dry run for their new Manchester set-up.

Having moved the start to a Saturday, so those who cannot get time off work during the week, such as teachers could attend part of the conference at least, it seemed odd that the Conference Committee scheduled the education debate about free schools and academies for Monday. Despite speeches from the Minister of State, the co-chairs of the parliamentary backbench group on education, and a member of the ministerial working party on central-local government relations, the amendment was soundly defeated; and the motion expressing opposition to free schools and concern about academies was overwhelmingly passed by conference. Both in the Hall and in the many fringes on the this subject there was no appetite for muddle, and strong support for decentralisation in line with the coalition agreement. It was a privilege to have been able to second the motion that had been so carefully crafted by Peter Downes.

Liverpool is a fine venue when the sun shines, but a real nuisance when it rains. Still, now the venue is fully operational, it worked better than during our visit in Spring 2008. If we continue to gain members, and win elections, between now and our visit to Sheffield in March, especially if they are at the expense of the Tories, we may be able to insert even more of our policies into government.

But, if we don’t protect the poor, the vulnerable and the dispossessed in society we won’t feel comfortable with ourselves. Nobody ever said government was easy.

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5 Comments

  • Nobody ever said government was easy? Yes they did.The Lib Dems did when they were in opposition.Before they were in government you could guarantee 10 press releases a day on the Lib Dem website starting with the immortal words “The government must…..”

  • Paul Pettinger 24th Sep '10 - 1:52pm

    Thank you for your contrbution to the free schools and academies motion John. The support for the motion and amendment one, plus the rejection of ammendment two really boosted my faith in the Party. Peter Downes was fantastic – I wish he was a Lib Dem Minister within the DfE.

  • “If we continue to gain members”

    You’re going to have to gain a lot to make up for the numbers that you are currently losing to Labour! Another two high profile Lib Dems defected to Labour this week. Robin Webber-Jones, parliamentary candidate in the Charnwood constituency who stood against Stephen Dorrel at the general election. Very critical of the coalition’s projected public sector cuts apparently. The other defector a was Gateshead councillor. Want more details? See http:redrag1.blogspot.com

    “But, if we don’t protect the poor, the vulnerable and the dispossessed in society we won’t feel comfortable with ourselves. ”

    Oh well, that’s the important thing, isn’t it? That you feel comfortable with yourselves. Don’t give a thought for the poor people that you are making deeply uncomfortable with your ideologically driven, victimising cuts.

    “Having moved the start to a Saturday, so those who cannot get time off work during the week, such as teachers could attend part of the conference at least, it seemed odd that the Conference Committee scheduled the education debate about free schools and academies for Monday.”

    Couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that the committee feared that with so many teachers present on Sunday opposition to so called “Free Schools” would be at its strongest and needed to be suppressed? That it made no difference, and the Free Schools policy was rejected by the conference, is all to the credit of the delegates who, at least, still retain some of their principles. How strange though, that immediately after the vote, coalition ministers assured us that it made no difference to government policy. So much for your much vaunted democratic policy making structure!

  • Yes all those you helped sack this week applaud you

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