Opinion: Nobody ever said government was easy

Liberal Democrat Voice at Conference

On Lib Dem Voice: Reportage | Contribute
On the official party website: Conference home
Watch Live on BBC Parliament

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.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Conference and Op-eds.


  • 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

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarGlenn 30th May - 4:19am
    George Kendall But they didn't all have extensive lockdowns. Maybe testing actually reduces mortality figures by demonstrating that the virus is simply not as lethal...
  • User AvatarGeorge Kendall 30th May - 3:02am
    @Glenn (1/2) Thanks for the reply. I know a few experts share your opinion. Most don't, but that doesn't make you wrong. For me, I'm...
  • User AvatarMichael BG 30th May - 2:26am
    This article asks the readers of LDV some questions: Do our five current proposed social ills cover all the social ills we as a party...
  • User AvatarGlenn 30th May - 12:35am
    George Kendall I disagree. There is growing evidence that at best there is very little difference between countries that adopted lockdowns than those that didn't....
  • User AvatarManfarang 29th May - 11:43pm
    I will always remember organising jumble sales. The amount of good stuff people would throw away.
  • User AvatarJoseph Bourke 29th May - 11:37pm
    David Raw, it is true you can’t tell Brentford supporters anything, not even other Brentford supporters can. The recent Libdem manifesto would see public spending...