Why our Country and our Party need an Emergency Lib Dem Special Conference – Now

In less than 26 minutes on Friday 23 September Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng took an axe to what remains of the British Economy and the hopes and prospects of so many ordinary people, and totally destroyed the last vestiges that the Conservatives are the party of Economic competence. By the end of the day the pound had crashed over 4% in value (and is still falling) and the FTSE a further 2%, undermining the savings, pensions, and prospects of workers, the retired and the unemployed, be they Teachers, Doctors, Farmers, workers in industry or workers in entertainment. It affects them all.

However only a few days before, Federal Board and Federal Conference Committee decided to completely cancel Party Conference and put everything on hold until Spring Conference is held In York next March. While the decision that it would be seen to be inappropriate to hold conference during the period leading up to the Queen’s funeral was totally justified, it was totally misguided to think that the Lib Dems, as a party, should have no opportunity to say anything about the new prime minister and her deeply damaging new ideas for six months.

Every Lib Dem who met Liz Truss when she was, temporarily, a member of our party, seems to have quickly formed the view that she was a young lady with an eye for self-publicity and an extremely radical view on things – but it wasn’t a Liberal Democratic view, as she quickly found out as they began to question the reasoning behind her vision.

Everyone who works in Business knows that real growth and progress comes slowly, and need careful planning and sustained amounts of effort over years and sometimes decades.  The desire for a quick fix, a dash for growth based on throwing vast amounts of borrowed money at its supporters, underpinned by a total lack of understanding of simple economic realities is no substitute for hard work and effort.  Sacking a Permanent Secretary on Day One and calling the most outrageous gamble with our nation’s economy “A Fiscal Event” in order to avoid OBR scrutiny shows linguistic cunning that Vladimir Putin would be proud of.

We all know that our party has a proud record of economic competence thanks to Vince and his spell as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills – A time when he actually got industry leaders talking to each other and dealing with the fundamental issues they faced.  He even started to develop a proper Industrial strategy, something the UK hasn’t had since the 1970s.  However, we can’t expect Ed and his few close advisors to develop and make a case for a radically different Lib Dem solution to Conservative incompetence on their own in a five minute slot on the BBC between coverage of the Labour Party Conference and the sports news.

He needs the support of the whole party and help from party members to develop a real radical Liberal Democrat alternative to this Tory created crisis, and a forum that will cut through into the national media, so we can present these to the country.  We can only do this by being more wide ranging, radical and comprehensively better in our proposals, and to do this:He, and we, need a conference.

However, we don’t need yet another set of deadly dull Lib Dem policy motions that simply say

  • Conference Notes – Things are bad
  • Conference Believes – Things should be better
  • Conference Further Notes – The Government are responsible for this mess
  • Conference Reaffirms – Everything we ever said about this in the past, that the government still hasn’t done
  • Conference Calls on – The Government to magically change its mind and do what we want

When what need to get cut through is 

  1. This is the solution and Lib Dems Commit to do everything it can in government to sort it all out

Currently there are good Lib Dems working on a solution to these problems, but to make it successful we need a Federal Conference to give it the publicity it needs.So in summary

  1. I note – Things are bad
  2. I believe – Things can be made much better
  3. I further note – That we have better solutions but we need to promote, debate and agree them, quickly
  4. I reaffirm – That we need to hold this Government responsible for the mess
  5. I call on – Federal Conference Committee and Federal Board to convene an Emergency Special Conference later this year to allow these to be discussed

And

  1. To make sure this happens – Every Lib Dem who cares about our country’s future and our party’s continuing relevance should formally request that the party call an Emergency Special Conference later this year, in accordance with Section 6.3 of the Party’s Constitution, to discuss our solution to the economic crisis that the Conservative party has unleashed on the British people.

 

* David Evans is a Liberal Democrat Councillor and lifelong Liberal and Liberal Democrat.

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29 Comments

  • Hear, hear

  • According to the “Independent” (26 September) the party did not have insurance to cover the cost of cancelling the conference in the event of the late monarch’s death…… and suggested the loss to the party of about £ 200,000 as a consequence.

    It would be helpful if someone could clarify whether such insurance was available and whether or not it was considered.

  • David writes “The desire for a quick fix, a dash for growth based on throwing vast amounts of borrowed money at its supporters, underpinned by a total lack of understanding of simple economic realities is no substitute for hard work and effort. ” A clear understanding of economic realities is indeed a sine qua non for sustainanble economic growth.
    Liz Truss today stated that the government has no plans to cut public spending and commented that public spending has increased from £700 billion to almost £1 trillion since 2010. This is the issue with public spending. Overall spending has not fallen significantly in the past decade in real terms (even with ultra-low interest rates) and the tax take is at its highest levels in decades. The NHS requires above inflation increases year on year and sucks funding from other departments. Going forward the government has committed an estimated £150 billion to energy market support and the interest bill on government debt is spiraling. This too is likely to maintain or increase total government spending while further depleting spending in other areas.
    At the core of the economic problems experienced by UK households is a distorted housing market that sucks exorbitant mortgage and rental payments from the dwindling disposable incomes of working age people.
    Ed Davey’s last speech on the economy was in 2019. Both Ed and Christine Jardine need to be able to articulate an economic policy fit for purpose in an era when we are seeing the return of high inflation and the end of ultra-low interest rates around the world. That can only be done by addressing the core of the problem.
    I am somewhat ambivalent about the need for a special conference before the spring, not least because I don’t think we have the necessary suite of policies yet to address the current economic climate and the recession that appears to be upon us. We do need to be ready by the Spring as general election campaigning is likely to be in full swing after a difficult winter.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Oct '22 - 5:24pm

    I agree with everything bar one aspect, in this excellent piece from David Evans, a regular valued member, who hasn’t written articles here before but contributes often to discussion.

    That thing I don’t agree on is that we need a special conference in person. Covid is still an issue this Winter, despite a national and wider, pretence, otherwise. If we can organise an online event this would be useful. It would cost less and reach people more. There are many who lost monet already, we can’t again call on them to spend more.

    My view is Joe and Mohammed here say it well. Spring is a better fit for a conference. But I agree with the real urgent requirement to speak out more and get noticed. My view is if we emphasised actual policies more we might succeed more. Like basic income, for the pooreset or average earners.

    As said, the content of what David argues against the govt and for our solutions is to be supported. I wrote one of the earliest and most staunch articles against the govt recently on this site, and so am glad we realise we must express our anger and offer our alternatives more.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 12th Oct '22 - 7:27pm

    David Raw, my understanding is that such insurance was not available on the market – the death of a 96 year old was not an event that could be insured against.

  • Thank you, Caron.

    Are you saying the report in the Independent was incorrect, and if so, has the party taken steps to challenge the Report by making a complaint to the editor about fictitious reporting ?

  • Nigel Jones 12th Oct '22 - 9:09pm

    Martin, you are right that David is not calling for a proper normal conference. We need a national event with messages that emphasise where we say the government is wrong, like condemning outright the trickledown theory as well as their total mishandling of the situation, blaming others etc etc. Also positives about our approach to economic growth (such as helping people on lower incomes, public investment and ways of dealing with inequalities and making more use not of high earnings, but high wealth and unearned income unless it is used for projects that grow the economy especially a green economy etc..)
    This is not the usual putting lots of policies submitted by members; not only, as David says, is this so often dull, it is ignored by the media and public and would be impossible to do in a special conference. It perhaps should be called an emergency economic conference and be organised totally differently from our normal conference.

  • Arthur Clive Trussel 13th Oct '22 - 10:42am

    I agree.
    Perhaps three consecutive Sundays on line. So as not to interfere with normal parliamentary stuff?
    Also, inviting all (selected?) Press to take part with Q&A at certain times.
    It would be very different to the others and so we might even get some attention!

  • I totally agree. We lost out on the added publicity due to the cancellation of our autumn conference and are being squeezed in the polls. Urgent action I feel is needed

  • David Garlick 13th Oct '22 - 11:11am

    I was initially calling for a two day event this year. I not sure i would go thaa far but something far above the level of a statement is clearly needed. I believe that the media and the Country would be very receptive to such and event. (No knowledge just a gut feeling)

  • Helen Dudden 13th Oct '22 - 12:30pm

    Something needs to be done and said.
    If anyone disagrees or not, 5 million a day on hotels?
    I’ve just been reading mother’s can’t afford nappies for babies.
    Arguments with the EU has caused issues, borrowing snowballs out of control. There is not an endless pot of money.

  • Gordon Lishman 13th Oct '22 - 12:46pm

    In 1964, the Liberal Party had to cancel its Conference because of a General Election. Instead, it organised a one-day event at Central Hall, Westminster, concentrating on immediate issues. It didn’t address normal business, but it received Conference coverage which was more than a one-off speech by a Leader which would have been less newsworthy. It also enabled the Party to lay out responses on different aspects of our approach to the Election with a range of spokespeople in the front-line and culminated in an (extremely good) speech by the Leader.

  • Gordon Lishman is correct about the one day special Assembly at Central Hall in the Autumn of 1964. Where I differ with Gordon is on the impact of the Leader’s speech…… the magnificent marching to the sound of gunfire speech by Jo Grimond. It hit the headlines and sent members off home in great heart.

  • The nature of the fiscal crisis brought upon us by the Truss administration was succinctly spelled out by the IMF ” We understand that the sizable fiscal package announced aims at helping families and businesses deal with the energy shock and at boosting growth via tax cuts and supply measures. However, given elevated inflation pressures in many countries, including the UK, we do not recommend large and untargeted fiscal packages at this juncture, as it is important that fiscal policy does not work at cross purposes to monetary policy. Furthermore, the nature of the UK measures will likely increase inequality.”
    The Chancellor will unveil his fiscal plan on 31 October now, so we will need to be ready to respond to the statement and OBR assessment.
    Ed Davey had good coverage when he was the first to call for scrapping of the energy price cap rise in August https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-62466386
    The shortfall was to be met by expanding the windfall tax on oil and gas company profits and using the higher-than-expected VAT revenues “as a result of soaring inflation”.
    It would be inconsistent to call for a cut in VAT (or any other tax cuts) now.
    The emphasis should be on the points raised by the IMF i.e avoiding large and untargeted fiscal packages, ensuring that fiscal policy does not work at cross purposes to monetary policy and ensuring that proposed measures do not increase inequality.
    A leaders’ keynote speech on the economy following the 31 October statement has the prospect of achieving the same kind of coverage as the August intervention on the energy price cap.

  • David Raw,

    I was too young to take an active interest in politics in the 1960’s. (I delivered my first Liberal leaflet I think for a local council election in 1964.) According to the British Political Speech website Jo Grimond made the ‘march my troops towards the sound of gunfire’ speech at the Liberal Assembly in 1963 (http://www.britishpoliticalspeech.org/speech-archive.htm?speech=36) before the 14th October 1964 general election. Wikipedia states that Parliament was dissolved and campaigning officially began on 25th September (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_1964_United_Kingdom_general_election).

    In the speech Jo Grimond said, “Secondly, the country has a right to know where Labour stands … It was made quite clear a year ago, in this town, by Mr Gaitskell that they were opposed to this country joining Europe”. As Gaitskell died on 18th January 1963. Grimond must have been referring to the Labour conference of 1962 held in Brighton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labour_Party_Conference).

    Gordon Lishman,

    I don’t know what type of meeting was held by the Liberal Party before the 14th October 1964 general election. Do you have a record of the date of this one-day event in 1964?

  • David Evans 14th Oct '22 - 6:10am

    First of all, Thanks to everyone who has responded so far. All of them, whether in agreement, opposed or in between, they are all appreciated, indeed vital. Diversity is a key strength of our party, and carefully considering all views, prior to coming to an informed conclusion, is vital.

    Secondly, Thanks to all who have indicated support so far, whether they be Theakes for whom brevity is a strength; Martin, who emphasises the key points of focus and urgency; Nigel who emphasises Martin’s points and speaks about the importance of messaging, and not being dull as policy motions can too often be; Arthur who stresses the need to think outside the box when it comes to the question of how to do it; Robin with his emphasis on urgency and the need to raise our profile in the polls; David (Garlick) who points out the lack of media cut through that a statement or leader’s speech on its own would have; and finally Gordon and David (Raw) who have pointed out we did it very successfully in the past – a time when we knew we were a small party but we were led by battlers who know we had to fight for our place at the table, instead of now when we seem to be a small party trapped in an oversized bureaucracy. Part 1 of 3.

  • David Evans 14th Oct '22 - 6:12am

    Thirdly, Thanks to those more in the middle including Joe and others who have pointed out other important aspects, some urgent and others more long term that we need to consider in order to get our point across. Taking sound economic points and turning them into common sense language that voters can directly relate to is key and we forget this at our peril.

    Finally, Thanks to Mohammed, against, but mainly on the basis of there isn’t time for a full blown party conference. On that I agree, but a tightly focussed one with (sadly but inevitably) minimal training and fringe would enhance a leader’s speech to something much greater than just a response to the Conservatives’ economic incompetence. It would give members with real experience a voice and widen the input Ed would receive to beyond just his inner circle. Properly managed, it would provide a forum where focussed comment could come from our members directly into the media which would reinforce the points we and Ed need to get over. Part 2 of 3

  • David Evans 14th Oct '22 - 6:16am

    All in all, it is good to see fellow Lib Dems contributing to the debate, with a real focus on what would be the benefit of an Emergency Special Conference and not just a listing of the cost and difficulty of doing so. In that regard, it would be helpful if some of those in FCC and Federal Board, would respond to these points as ultimately it is those people we need to show the flexibility and imagination to make it happen.

    It’s tough, but politics is tough.

  • David Evans,

    I am happy to see that you have written an article for LDV regarding your desire for a special one day Conference. You state that some unnamed people are “working on a solution to” the UK’s economic problems, but you don’t say who they are or what this solution is.

    Our Federal constitution states that “additional meetings may be summoned upon the requisition of … 2% of members, in not less than 10% of local parties”. It is not clear in the constitution if the agenda for this additional Conference can be set out in the request.

    On Saturday 10th September the Federal Board decided to cancel our autumn conference. Therefore perhaps the best way to get the Federal Board to hold a one day conference before Christmas is for you to email all 15 directly elected members, the chairs of the three state parties, the three elected by the state parties, the Young Liberals representative, and the representative of our councillors and ask these 23 members of the Federal Board to call for a special conference this year. They are a majority of the Federal Board members and they are the representatives of the membership and not the establishment of the party. This has to be easier than trying to get 2% of the membership (maybe 1400 members) to request one. You haven’t even stated who these members should email to make this request. Can you?

  • Without a Conference, how could the LibDems get any message across in the face of the BBC treating us like a fringe, after 2015.

    The BBC Chair is a major Tory donor and the BBC Board member in charge of balance is another top Tory.

    Examples of people who get more BBC coverage than the LibDems, a Party who received around 12% at the previous General Election and maintain a clear 3rd place across the UK:

    The SNP ( 4 % of G.E vote)

    IEA, Clare Short ( and other right wing think tank employees)

    The M.D of Iceland Supermarkets and a Tory supporter

    Journalists from the Spectator ( reportedly the In house magazine of the Tory Party )

    Nigel Farage of UKIP / Brexits, endlessly promoted from obscurity until he went into asn electoral alliance with the Tory Party, then promptly retired from UK politics

    Geoff Norcott, possibly the UK’s only professional right wing comedian

  • @ David Evans: “[Once] we were a small party but we were led by battlers… [now we seem] to be a small party trapped in an oversized bureaucracy.”

    Exactly so! Bureaucracy is very necessary but, of itself, it can’t provide leadership yet that is what we ask it to do. The party’s spokespeople (including the leader) are just that, spokespeople for a bureaucratic ‘blob’ that, faithful to the constitution, works through its set routines year after year. So, there is no actual leadership.

    We may pride ourselves on our diversity but that’s mostly just politely listening to dissenting voices before ignoring them. That’s not the fault of those involved; AFAIK the very reasonable reaction to the civil war of the Liberal-SDP Alliance in the 1980s was to prevent anything similar happening in the merged LibDems. So, the LibDem constitution was designed from the off to deliver a single position. However, with committees involved, outcomes are biased to the lowest common denominator.

    It was a worthy aim, but the way it was done accidently squeezed out diversity and hybrid vigour; instead of leading to a ‘broad church’, it’s made a narrow one. Contrast that with Jo Grimond’s inspirational leadership older members remember so fondly.

    We need to rekindle the vigorous and diverse debate of the old Liberal Party. Fortunately, there is some fantastic new thinking around, much of it profoundly Liberal.

    So, how can we engage with that thinking? How can we reinvigorate debate?

  • @ John.

    Thank you for highlighting the media angle. It’s one of the things that was very much on my mind as I wrote my earlier comment on this thread. To exaggerate only slightly, if something wasn’t put out to policy working groups a few years ago turning into policy about now, then it doesn’t exist.

    Maybe I blinked and missed it, but I’ve heard nothing about media strategy (in the sense of requiring fairness and accuracy in reporting as opposed to getting coverage) yet this is obviously a BIG issue, especially for the BBC. It ought to act as ‘backstop’ to the oligarch media, limiting how far they can stray from the truth.

    Mostly, it’s not outright untruths so leaving things out or phrasing that, to a casual listener, implies something without quite saying it. And when it comes to the strategic choices the country faces… oh dear!

    For example, how many have really understood that Europe’s energy crisis is entirely voluntary? Or that there is an alternative? It is the US + UK + Europe that have sanctioned Russia in the misconceived belief that doing so would crash its economy within weeks. Despite our sanctions, the Russian economy is doing very well, but we are in deep and growing trouble.

    The BBC should be all over this on every bulletin.

    I could go on, but word limits plus we have a visitor arriving soon.

  • I would go along with this idea but make it 2 days. A single day would be cramming. It might also wake up our leadsrship who apparently seem to have been asleep during the past week.

  • David Evans 17th Oct '22 - 6:01pm

    It is good to see even more responses from fellow Lib Dems, engaging with one key theme of my article – which has to be the biggest problem our party faces – our almost total lack of presence in the national media.

    John, virtually everything you say is spot on, I don’t know about Geoff Nocott, but you could well be right there as well. ☹

    Gordon, Indeed we need to realise that if we don’t get noticed our party may well be on the slow road to oblivion.
     We failed to capitalise on the massive support we gained over being on the right side of Brexit.
     We failed to capitalise on the opportunity we had with Coalition.
     Now we are failing to capitalise on the Chaos that is the Tory party.

    Labour can do it. The SNP can do it. Plaid and the Greens can do it. Our brilliant activists can and have done it in Chesham and Amersham, North Shropshire and Tiverton and Honiton. But for some inexplicable reason we have a party establishment that now wants us all to run away and hide.

    I fear it is worse than the lowest common denominator. It seems to be the weakest link.

  • Peter Hirst 17th Oct '22 - 6:04pm

    We need a Special Conference to articulate to the British people that we have a solution to our present circumstances that is fair, radical and progressive. It would be a tremendous opportunity for us to put our message to the electorate and gain many of those votes that are passing to Labour. It should be seen as a PR exercise pure and simple. If done succesfully it would mean that our late Queen has not died in vain.

  • David Evans 17th Oct '22 - 6:04pm

    All in all, the only way to get our party to reinvigorate debate and become relevant is to have powers that be that want us have vigorous debate and want us to be relevant. Bearing in mind there has been no reaction to my suggestion that someone on FCC or Federal Board might comment here, it doesn’t make me think they might come willingly.

    Which brings me to Michael BG’s request that we e-mail everyone on Federal Board. Normally, I would agree with him – that would be the right thing to do. The problem is that over two weeks ago, I e-mailed the Chair of FCC, Nick da Costa, and the Sian Waddington our Head of Operations, and so far have not received any response from them at all!! Part 2 of 2

  • Peter Davies 17th Oct '22 - 6:10pm

    “A proper Party Conference needs extensive forward planning. We don’t need one for our Party’s leadership to be able to respond to Liz Truss’s economic policies.”
    We shouldn’t need one but at a time when our major opponents are throwing votes to anyone willing to catch them, Deltapoll is putting us at 7%. Starmer can provide the necessary mockery for the government’s plans but for us to get noticed we need an actual alternative plan.

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