Monday, 11 March 2013

A soulless Spring Conference

Well, I'm back from the Lib Dem Spring Conference in Brighton and I'm sorry to say that it was probably the most lifeless conference I've ever been to.

There was this malaise hanging over everyone there - the buzz and the energy we've had at previous conferences seemed to have been sucked out.

The reason for this might well be the continued determination of the party leadership to ignore any policy passed by conference and the utter refusal of the leadership to properly engage on the vital issue of secret courts.

The first sign of this came during the Q&A session with Nick Clegg - when questioned about our parliamentarians' support for secret courts he accused critics of being alarmist, set up and knocked down strawman arguments and utterly evaded answering the questions he'd been asked.

In particular I asked him a supplementary question myself (the second time I've asked him an awkward question - sooner or later he's bound to stop picking me) which has been summarised by Alex Marsh (far more eloquently than I asked it) as follows:
"Given this change was not in the Coalition agreement, it was against party policy, and it was against a principle absolutely fundamental to liberalism, why didn’t the party’s MPs vote against the Bill?"
Clegg then spectacularly evaded this by saying that there wasn't a parliamentary majority to block the bill and therefore it couldn't be stopped - despite the fact that my question was clearly about why our MPs didn't vote against it even if they were in a minority. In fact, by Clegg's logic, we should have voted for the Iraq War because there was already a majority of MPs in favour of it.

In fact, the Q&A became quite rowdy with even some minor heckling breaking out - clearly I wasn't the only one immensely dissatisfied with the leadership over this.

And then we had the emergency motion reiterating our opposition to secret courts itself where the supporters of the leadership accused the membership of living in an 'Alice in Wonderland' world and where the brilliant Jo Shaw dramatically resigned in her speech proposing the motion.

The motion was overwhelmingly passed but I doubt it will  make any difference given that the leadership ignored the last motion on the issue - just as it did on the NHS, tuition fees, welfare reform, legal aid, et al.

And in the meantime we've lost two incredibly talented members of the party due to the failure of the leadership to listen on secret courts.

The emergency motions debates themselves were also overshadowed by a conference committee stitch up the day before which meant that only the first and third place emergency motions as voted by conference reps were selected for debate while the second most popular emergency motion - one on the economy by the Social Liberal Forum - was rejected after the leadership insisted to conference committee that it needed more time to be adequately debated than was available.

This wouldn't seem so suspicious were it not for a similar SLF motion on the economy having been blocked from being on the agenda at last year's spring conference and an SLF amendment to another motion on the economy being rejected at last year's autumn conference in favour of a more extreme amendment which was sponsored by fewer people - the reason behind this being that the leadership knew they could defeat this amendment and so picked it to give the false illusion of a real debate when there was none.

Bearing all this in mind, it's not really surprising that most people at conference seemed to just be going through the motions - the agenda was insipid and lots of people I talked to remarked on how lifeless the conference overall felt.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed meeting lots of people I hand't seen in ages - as well as attending the last night of conference glee club and doing a bit of shopping at the brilliant Lib Dem Image stall selling Lib Dem merchandise.

And, for what it's worth, I'll still be going to autumn conference in Glasgow - but if the leadership don't start listening to the membership soon then I can be fairly confidence that the autumn conference will turn into a bloodbath. Members have just worked their fingers to the bone to win Eastleigh but I doubt they'll campaign energetically for the party again if all they get in return is betrayal over fundamental issues of Lib Dem principle like secret courts - and indeed Mark Thompson has already pledged not to campaign for any Lib Dem MP who votes for secret courts and I am now joining him in making that pledge.

1 comment:

  1. Philippe Sands has now quit bringing the count to 3 resignations over secret courts. What a shame no one quit over welfare, legal aid & all the other despicable policies.

    I know there are morally well balanced LD's such as yourself George but unfortunately none of them are in Govt.
    Your beloved party is less than a shadow of its former self due to the cowardice & corruption LibDem Ministers have caved into. That they caved into that immorality with such ease is the biggest crime & betrayal.

    I applaud that you stuck with them throughout this debacle & always spoke up against it. That said, sometimes it's best to walk away with your dignity & morals intact knowing you've done all you can to try & prevent the spread of infection.
    LibDems are done for & I personally would give up trying to flog a dead horse. Don't wait till the fall-out becomes nuclear.

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