The Orange Bookers v the Cameroons: Liberal Reform/ERS event at spring conference

This Saturday, March 8th, at spring conference, Liberal Reform and the Electoral Reform Society will be hosting an event in the Bootham Room of the Hilton York on the topic of Which Party for Liberals? Conservative or Liberal Democrats?

I know already that, right from the title, there will be some in the party who will be upset. “Why limit the choice outside of the Lib Dems to just the Tories?”, I can imagine some will ask. The binary nature of the debate was inspired by Nick Boles’ talk a few months ago about the need for a “National Liberal” party, one that would sit technically outside the Conservative Party but would take the party whip (much like the Co-op Party MPs do with the Labour Party). We wanted Nick Boles himself to argue his side of the case; sadly, getting a Tory MP to come to Lib Dem spring conference was beyond my charms. Jeremy Browne and I will be holding up the Lib Dem end of things on Saturday.

My own argument for dismantling Nick Boles’ National Liberal idea boils down to five key areas: Europe, crime and justice, social conservatism, electoral and constitutional reform and self-identity.

So much for Cameron’s no more “banging on about Europe” pledge while in opposition; what’s been amazing is that even in coalition with an explicitly pro-European party, the Tories have gone on about the EU more than I would have ever thought possible. It must be admitted that there are plenty of pro-European Tories, but I think the standing down of people like Laura Sandys or even the de-selection of Tim Yeo is a sign of just how anti-European the party has become.

In regards to crime and justice: at a conference rally a few years back, Alistair Carmichael stood on stage and gave, as one of his reasons why Lib Dems in government are a good thing, the fact that we were able to stop the UK supplying the drugs that would end Troy Davis’ life in America via the death penalty. The conference crowd went wild with approval. No one would give such an ardent anti-capital punishment speech at Tory conference. Never. And if somehow someone did, they would be met with disapproving murmurs at best.

My third point of difference is social conservatism – look no further than the problems equal marriage has caused within the Conservative Party.

On electoral and constitutional reform the AV referendum campaign, and the demise of the Lords Reform Bill, told their own stories (although behind the scenes they are warming up, albeit slowly).

I close with the self-identity issue. I have always thought that supporting a political party should not be like supporting a football club, one that is made from blind loyalty. You should be a member of a political party only so long as you feel that the party reflects your values. Having said all of that, once you’ve identified yourself with a particular political party, it becomes hard to disentangle yourself.

I’m sure you have equally strong reasons for being a Liberal Democrat (at least I hope you do). Please join us on March 8th in York at 8pm and take part in the discussion.

* Nick Tyrone is a liberal writer. He blogs at and is an associate director at CentreForum.

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  • Terry Gilbert 4th Mar '14 - 10:26am

    One for the ambitious suits, obviously.

    Ordinary members are surely asking ‘which party for the liberal socialists?’ The people who care – and understand – what happens to the ordinary folk of this country when the elite bankers and politicians go rogue, but think Labour too authoritarian to protect civil freedoms.

  • ” Jeremy Browne and I will be holding up the Lib Dem end of things on Saturday. “. Will he bring his shopping trolley with him to illustrate his speech?

  • Bill le Breton 4th Mar '14 - 11:30am

    “Jeremy Browne and I will be holding up the Lib Dem end of things on Saturday.”

    Yet more leadership challengers polishing up their c.v.s, dusting down their credentials and re-positions themselves for May 23rd.

    Someone should tell these people that there is an election going on and that we have candidates in the field!!!!!!!

  • Geoffrey Payne 4th Mar '14 - 2:06pm

    I understand this fringe meeting is sponsored by the ERS, and I am curious as to why they are doing this given the event is not obviously about electoral reform.
    I think that Nick Boyles remarks were an obvious attempt to recruit a discontented Jeremy Browne into the Tory party. Given that the Tories have resorted back to once again being the nasty party I think it would be interesting to hear if this has caused any discontent amongst the liberal Tories, who are not so liberal that any of them have complained much, let alone join the Liberal Democrats.
    I would like to attend this event but I suspect I will be elsewhere. If I was going I would be wondering if there are any Tories who think that a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats post 2015 would be worth doing and what that government would achieve. I would be interested to know what the Orange Bookers would think as well. I struggle to think of anything, this government now seems to have run out of steam. The Tories now what to press ahead with the things that the Lib Dems have stopped them from doing.
    In 2010 the Tories thought they had to decontaminate their image, and going into Coalition with the Lib Dems seemed the ideal way of doing it. Today we see a Tory party that has stopped being Green, stopped being compassionate, and is more concerned about crowding out UKIP than appealing to Liberals. I don’t see any prospect with a Coalition with the Tories no matter how much the Orange Bookers would want it.

  • Terry – it is perfectly possible to be an ordinary member but not on the left of the party!

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