For me, Lib Dem conference began on Friday when I arrived in Liverpool. This 5 day extravaganza of Lib Dem-ness was a little wierd, especially to one such as I who had only ever been to Welsh Conference & Special Conference prior to it. One of the wierdest things of all, was definitely the level of security. But I’ve taken away a few thoughts from conference:
1) The LibDems have not morphed into Tories overnight
One of the allegations thrown by the handful of protestors on Sunday, sporting posters of Thatcher morphing into Cameron and shouting “Yellow Tories” & “You’re a Tory in Disguise” are wrong (and by the way guys, you’ve got no stamina, you gave up half way through the day!). The Lib Dems are the same party we’ve been all along, particularly in Wales were some of the more divisive issues, like Free Schools aren’t affecting us.
The same goes for Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and all the other cabinet ministers. They may have had to argue for & support some Tory ideas, but it was clear to me that they did have reservations and that when they did so, they were approaching the issue from the same ideological standpoint we’ve always had, of left-wing Liberalism.
I’m sure some of you out there will try & shout this down, but the Liberal Democrats identity remains unchanged. And we’re certainly not Tories.
2) People aren’t baying for Nick Clegg’s blood (within the party at least)
Nick may have gotten a somewhat lukewarm reception for his Q&A session, but when he left, there was a much cheerier round of applause. The Q&A session began with people airing some very legitimate and widely held worries about the coalition, worries that he dealt with admirably.
Certainly, within the party as a whole, this and his numerous appearances at fringes have helped to calm grass roots jitters over some of the areas of government policy, because he has been open & explained why what is being done has been chosen & how we’ve impacted upon it as a party.
To those of you who predicted Nick a rough ride, I think you underestimated his powers of explanation.
3) Our nutters are still there
As was I’m sure evidenced, one of the big planks of the public perception, that Lib Dems are all sandal wearing, Guardian reading beardo’s (even the women) is still very much the case, if somewhat diminished.
As someone (I can’t remember who) tweeted after Nick Clegg’s speech, it’s still possible to find a bearded man, in yellow sandals, yellow trousers and a waistcoat with hippo’s on it at Lib Dem conference. I think it’s safe to say, that despite being in government the nutters are here to stay and that, is certainly a good thing.
4) We’re not imploding anytime soon
Going in to conference, the media were expecting there to be more fireworks at LibDem Conference. Unfortunately, the only fireworks to be had were those at rally, which from what I see, the organisers had forgotten to tell Special Branch about…. After several balloons had already been popped….
There were of course grievances, worries & policy concerns, but on the whole, they were dealt or indeed aired in a very open & honest way. And to those predicting the annihilation of the Liberal Democrats, I should caution you with history. The Liberal Party has already been to the brink of extinction once within this country and we came back. As for those who point to the polls, there are two things you should remember. Back during the election, right up until the exit polls the Lib Dems appeared to be on around the 27% – 30% mark and we came through with about 24%, polls can be inaccurate, even with a trend. The other thing to remember is that there are 8 months to the next round of election and 4 years 4 months to the next general election. If a week is a long time in politics, let alone 8 months. You’ve no realistic idea how the next 8 months will go, hence it’s difficult at best to crack out that old crystal ball.
The fact is, with most Lib Dems having argued for coalition politics all our political lives, we understand what they are and what they entail much better than the media do. Especially since the media perpetually hunt splits to gain viewers & sell newspapers.
To conclude, in my humble opinion, Liberal Democrat conference has shown us that the Lib Dems are functioning well within the coalition, as well as retaining our distinct identity and despite the gripes, grumbles & concerns we’re in no mind to raise hell & try destroy the coalition. The next four years are certainly not going to be easy, but they are definitely going to be interesting.
- Greg Foster