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THREE THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR AT THE LIBERAL DEMOCRAT CONFERENCE

Last Updated: Friday, September 16th, 2011

The Liberal Democrats are suffering under Nick Clegg’s leadership.  They –

* Lost seats in the 2010 election, reversing the history of steady progress they had previously made since their formation.

* Have since plunged to their lowest poll ratings in 20 years.

* And have seen their dream of electoral reform, and the permanent re-shaping of British politics, crushed in a once-in-a-generation referendum.

Yet the Liberal Democrat conference tomorrow finds the party in better heart than might therefore be expected:

* Clegg is facing no calls from Parliamentarians or senior councillors to resign.

* His party has not split.

* And its commitment to the Coalition until 2015 is under no serious challenge.

There are solid reasons for its holding of its nerve:

* The Liberal Democrats recognise that Clegg, and perhaps in particular his performances during the election debates, helped gain for it the place in Government denied for the best part of a century.

* Clegg’s Cabinet colleagues and rivals – Chris Huhne and Vince Cable – are both deficit hawks, who believe that the mission to balance the Government’s budget is right, and that the Commons arithmetic made a deal with Labour impossible.

* The party’s poll ratings have recovered from their worst nadir,  and Clegg has pleased party members by “standing up to the Tories” over the NHS in particular, forcing the recasting of Andrew Lansley’s original reforms.

It now faces a strategic choice about how to approach the rest of its time in Coalition:

* It could decide to co-operate harmoniously with the Conservatives, in much the same spirit as the graceful Cameron-Clegg  joint press conference in the Downing Street garden following the Coalition’s formation.

* It could decide to confront them, as it has done increasingly since the AV referendum fell – over the NHS, access to University for poorer students, the 50p rate and a mansion tax, free schools, the EU, talks with Islamist extremists, and so on.

Clegg’s natural inclination is to take the former route, because he believes that –

* Evidence from elsewhere in Europe suggests that voters don’t like squabbling Government parties, and that the Liberal Democrats will be blamed for quarrels.

* That, therefore, the party’s best chance of gaining the voters’ respect is to mature further into a natural party of Government that can be trusted with Britain finances.

* And, in the longer term, that the Liberal Democrats must remain a centre party with the option of governing with the Conservatives if necessary.

However, he has limited room for manoeuvre, given his party’s distrust of the Tories and the ambitions of these colleagues.  So at the coming conference, it will be worth watching:

* Clegg, and how he handles the vexed question of his party’s relationship with the Conservatives – and the bungling of the AV referendum – in his speech to the conference.

* Huhne and Cable.  Whether Huhne re-emerges from the cloud of speeding-related allegations as a potential leader, and whether Cable repeats his calls of last year for a mansion tax, making a major pitch to the party’s left.

* Laws and Farron.  Whether the former’s strongly pro-Coalition piece in today’s Sun is the start of a longer campaign, and how effectively the latter can polish his future leadership credentials.

A good litmus test of the conference’s mood will be whether or not it has the appetite for a further battle over the NHS reforms at the instigation of Baroness Williams, the former SDP co-founder, and Evan Harris, the former MP.

by Paul Goodman

 

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK FROM CONSERVATIVEHOME

 

ConservativeHome relaunched last Monday with a new layout – and six new columnists, with Ruth to appear on Sunday.

Monday September 12

Paul Goodman: Be afraid, be very afraid: the boundary review is coming
“Because the Government proposes to put equal size before other considerations – such as, for example, the present practice of seats not spilling over county boundaries – every seat will potentially be affected.   Some experts point out that a few areas will lose very few seats. (The south-east is apparently due to lose only one.)  But this is beside the point: what matters most is not so much number as effect.  Remove some seats, stress size equality, re-draw boundaries and…hey presto, everyone’s in the frame.” Read more: http://is.gd/D0V3kr

Columnist One – Bruce Anderson: Cameron would like to combine the social stability of the 1950s with the economic dynamism of the 1980s
“Cameron…subscribes to that broad middle section of the Church of England, the Church reticent. But he does not base his hopes for the future on a religious revival. By temperament, he is neither a pessimist nor a philosopher. Although he read a fair amount of philosophy at Oxford in pursuit of his First, he could have echoed Dr Johnson’s friend: ‘I tried to be a philosopher, Sir, but happiness kept breaking through’. When there were complaints that the Tories’ 2005 manifesto, which he largely wrote, lacked intellectual weight, David Cameron retorted: ‘If people want philosophy, let them read Descartes’. Read more: http://is.gd/uUiHG1

Tuesday September 13

Graham Brady and Lord Lingfield: To open up educational opportunity for all, we must give schools autonomy and the freedom to select
“Research shows that academic selection can raise standards in the selective schools and in neighbouring non-selective schools…A good start could be made by giving academy schools permission to select (on criteria including academic ability) up to 20% of their intake, and the right to petition the Secretary of State for permission to select an even greater proportion in this way. In addition, once they are up and running, consideration should be given to the trialling of selective Free Schools in some urban areas where existing state provision is most deficient.” Read more: http://is.gd/8iMybN

Columnist Two:  Anthony Browne – Last night in the Thatcher Room, a new Eurosceptic Movement of Tory MPs was born
“Under the chairmanship of George Eustice, there was a calm determination to take advantage of what everyone agreed was a “golden opportunity” presented by the euro crisis to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU – with the aim of repatriating some powers. Contrary to media reports, the aim of the meeting was not to pressure the government into holding a referendum on pulling out of the EU – indeed, that was explicitly and repeatedly ruled out as a purpose of the new group.” Read more: http://is.gd/MflzxB

Wednesday September 14

Andrew Lilico: Repeal all abortion laws
“The question is not how parents treat their own bodies: it is how they treat another person’s, and whether they have a duty of hospitality towards it. We do not need any abortion laws.  It would not follow automatically from having no abortion laws that we would have either fewer or more abortions.  That would depend on what principles we decide to apply to the treatment of people. But it is not right to have special laws regarding the killing of embryos, and more than Jews or homosexuals or the disabled. One pan-human universal framework of homicide law is enough.” Read more: http://is.gd/WQ9KzL

Columnist Three – Jill Kirby: That’s enough reviews, let’s have some action
“There is an alternative. If the Prime Minister wants to hear the voice of British employers and put forward some well-researched, evidence-based proposals for reform, to boost jobs and get the economy moving, why not ask British industry? The CBI, for example, has published a series of reports on the impact of employment regulation, with some practical ideas for change that could make a real difference to their members and get British jobs – and the British economy – moving again. We don’t need gimmicks, but we must get rid of the worst regulatory excesses of the Labour years.” Read more: http://is.gd/TvboZ6

Thursday September 15

Tim Montgomerie: A YouGov poll finds positive reaction to Murdo Fraser’s idea of separate Scottish party
“ConservativeHome asked YouGov to investigate Murdo Fraser MSP’s suggestion that the Scottish Conservative Party develop a more distinct identity and with different policies from the rest of the UK Conservative Party. The answers are not dramatic but they do suggest that the change could have a positive effect – particularly among younger Scots.

The survey of 1,030 Scottish voters found that 33% thought that the change would have a positive affect while 20% thought it would have a negative effect. 18 to 24 year olds were most positive; by 43% to 15%. 40% of all Scots think the change would make no difference.” – Read more: http://is.gd/5cg5d2

Columnist Four – Stephan Shakespeare: Three reasons why political leadership is becoming less visionary and more inclusive
“I predict a long decline in political leadership of that individualistic type which we have been accustomed to and which many still thirst after. There are three drivers for this change; the first has already been well observed: an ever greater degree of public scrutiny. There used to large “hidden space” in politics where the guild of politicians could pursue their activities in obscurity. The fact that media could only afford limited attention to the process meant that there was plenty which could be arranged by “the usual channels”. A great deal of leadership used to be exercised without anybody noticing. It must now be done mainly in the open.” – Read more: http://is.gd/1fuxKX

Friday September 16

Philip Booth: Socialists may be clever but they’re certainly not humble
“We should all try to work to attenuate those faults towards which we are naturally inclined, of course. Unlike Polly Toynbee, I would not suggest that liberals are “better people” than socialists; I do not have a window into the heart of anybody; I do not know the battles that different people have with their different faults. I do have a view on whether I tend to find liberals and conservatives “nicer” people; I am also happy to concede that we are, on average, less intelligent people. But it would be the height of conceit to claim to know who is and is not a “better person” than another – though conceit, it turns out, is a socialist vice.” Read more: http://is.gd/SAucet

Columnist Five – Danny Kruger: There are many issues where our collective conscience is a surer guide than individual choice
“Why, then, is it so hard to be a social conservative? Why, most of all, is it so hard to deploy the language of morality? The word itself lands with a dull thud on the ears, and so we are left with the limp lexicon of progressivism – words like efficiency, prosperity, fairness, none of which speaks to the things that matter. Our modern language has nothing of the heart, except ‘happiness’, of course – surely the thinnest of all emotional ambitions, because unrooted in anything real or relational.” Read more: http://is.gd/iM48SS

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