Some recommended reading for Lib Dem councillors and local campaigners over the last week.
Obviously it’s been our conference week, which has no doubt been the most interesting news coverage for most Lib Dems. Others will no doubt do a more comprehensive list of conference news coverage, but three we noticed were:
Nick’s start of conference interview with the Observer. A podcast of the Nick Clegg Q&A session (a recording to listen to). Nick’s speech (to read).
The Independent’s write up of Nick’s speech.
And finally The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow’s list of 10 things that he has learnt at Lib Dem Conference
(the latter is part of a regularly updating blog entry, but it includes the rather useful quote “The Lib Dems are not turning into a right wing party”).
Away from Conference in the Local Government press:
Not that it means its necessarily true! – but here’s the Telegraph’s list of the top 25 most influential Liberal Democrats.
I never thought I’d be quoting from my own local newspaper in this column, but this story, of a (Labour) Councillor being investigated for (reportedly) not disposing of confidential electoral waste correctly should be a warning to all campaigners.
Another sad loss this week, for colleagues in Wales and beyond. Here is the BBC’s report on the late (Lord) Richard Livsey, former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Cllr Tim Pickstone
As promised here’s The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow’s 10 points in full:
“2.43pm: After five days in Liverpool, what have we found out? Here’s my “10 things I’ve learned from the Lib Dem conference”.
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.
2. Nick Clegg doesn’t need to worry about the Lib Dems’ three ex-leaders. Lord Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell have at times been depicted as coalition-sceptics with the potential to move against Clegg at some point in the future if things turn sour. But the conference has shown that Kennedy is not really a frontline figure in Lib Dem politics at the moment, Campbell has kept a relatively low profile and Ashdown has come out as one of Clegg’s biggest fans, describing him as someone who is “going to be a very great leader of our party.”
3. The Lib Dems are not turning into a rightwing party. Sometimes Lib Dem ministers and Tory ministers can sound quite similar. At a fringe meeting last night, I heard the Tory Oliver Letwin say that he enjoyed working with Danny Alexander and that he had “yet to find any major difference between us”. But you don’t have to spend long listening to the debates here to realise that Lib Dem activists are quite unlike their Conservative counterparts. The Lib Dems are defnitely more “leftish” and at a Tory conference you are unlikely to hear a self-proclaimed atheist transexual speaking up for gay marriage in a long debate on equality.
4. The Lib Dems understand coalition politics better than the media. Westminster journalists like me 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.
5. The Lib Dems and the Conservatives are both committed to localism – but very different kinds of localism. The Lib Dems like councils. They even passed a motion saying that eventually councils should be allowed to raise 75% of their revenue locally. The Tories also like decentralisation, but they are more wary of empowering local authorities. At some point this might cause problems for the coaliton.
6. The Lib Dems are beginning to believe they could benefit electorally from being in coalition with the Conservatives. Conventional wisdom says smaller parties always get eaten up in a coalition. In May, many Lib Dems seemed to believe this. But they have noticed that voters seem to like parties cooperating and Chris Huhne told the conference this week that they should make a virtue of the fact that they’re a collaborative bunch.
7. The alternative vote campaign seems to be in trouble. The polls show support for AV is falling and it is hard to find a Lib Dem confident that AV will get through. Clegg launched the Yes campaign at a rally on Saturday. But some Lib Dems think voters will use the referendum as an excuse to punish the coalition for the cuts and, if the Yes campaigners have got a strategy to deal with this, they haven’t bothered to tell anyone what it is yet.
8. Lib Dem relations with the media are getting tetchy. There has been a surprising amount of sniping at the media from the platform this week. Maybe it’s just because the Lib Dems are in government. But my cod-psychology theory is that the repressed anger generated by years of being patronised and ignored by the papers is finally erupting.
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.
10. Miriam González Durántez is going to be an interesting figure in our national life. Clegg’s wife received plaudits during the election campaign for getting on with her job and refusing to play the conventional role played by the leader’s spouse. This week she had a ding-dong with Channel 4’s Jon Snow and gave short shrift to an interviewer from the Times. It won’t be dull while she’s around.
This is a subjective list. Please feel free to suggest your own ideas in the comments.”