Thursday, 7 March 2013

We should ban Lib Dem conference

Personally I love Lib Dem conferences. They're great fun, I get to meet up with loads of friends and there's always more interesting things to do than I have time for. They are, without a doubt, the highlights of my year and are fixed in my diary as soon as the dates are announced with as much certainty as if they were carved into stone. So don't get me wrong on my opinion on conference.

But nevertheless, I'm coming to the conclusion that we should just scrap it all together. Let me tell you why.

You see, the thing is that the core function of conference is to make policy for the party. It is sovereign in this aspect - it is the members of the Liberal Democrats who have the power to make policy through their elected conference representatives. And this is what sets us apart from other parties - we are the only major British political party where members all get to have an equal say in policy making. Even Nick Clegg has no greater say in what becomes party policy than an ordinary member does.

That's the theory anyway.

Because the reality is that on tuition fees, on the NHS reforms, on the welfare reforms, on legal aid reforms and on secret courts, conference representatives have done the party and its principles and its members proud by voting for proper Liberal Democrat policy on each of these issues.

But that didn't make a blind bit of difference because on each of those issues the party's MPs and the leadership went right ahead and ignored party policy.

Each time they had an excuse - we're in coalition and we have to compromise to cut the deficit etc, etc. And each of those excuses, however feeble and pathetic they might have seemed, did at least have a valid point behind them which had to be acknowledged even if members disagreed with that point and there was always at least a large minority of members which agreed with the leadership.

But now, on secret courts, a fundamental attack on civil liberties and basic principles of justice, the party leadership has run out of legitimate excuses.

Virtually the entire party, apart from parliamentarians, is united in opposition to the government's plans to create a situation where one side in cases on such important issues as the UK's torture of its own citizens has the opportunity to whisper in secret in the judge's ear. And, what's more, this was not in the coalition agreement, is not necessary to help with the financial crisis and it runs utterly contrary to the fundamental principles of liberty expressed in the party's constitution.

And the party made its views clear at conference in passing a motion utterly opposed to secret courts - and this despite a shameful attempt to rig the debate by the only people called to speak, bar one, being pro-secret courts parliamentarians.

Despite this, however, all but 7 Lib Dem MPs voted last week in favour of secret courts in parliament, striking down amendments from the Lords which would have at least improved the situation slightly.

This makes things utterly clear: there can no longer be any pretence that our parliamentary party gives a damn about policy made at conference.

And that isn't just a betrayal of the party's democratic traditions, it's also a betrayal of thousands of activists up and down the country who work the equivalent of unpaid part-time jobs for the party in order to get our MPs elected in the first place.

So that's why I think we should ban Lib Dem conference. If policy it makes is now destined to be utterly ignored, without any consequences, by our parliamentarians then there's no longer any point to it other than as a figleaf of hollowed out democratic trappings for the party to boast about and as a paying audience to clap on cue at speeches by the leadership.

And I for one would rather see conference dead than see that vision of mockery of it come to pass.

When I go to conference Brighton this weekend I'll be going there for the first time as someone utterly disillusioned with what conference is meant to be about. And I'll be doing everything in my power to hold our leadership to account for their betrayal.

Because the sad reality of our party now is that, for all the talk of phony divisions between left and right, between social liberals and orange bookers, there is now only one real division in our party: between the leadership and the members.


  1. The Lib Dems will destroy this country

    Sign this petition to restrict Bulgarian and Romanians from entering the UK:

    Over 82,000 signed

    1. No. Immigration is good for this country and I don't sign positions based on scaremongering, ignorance of the facts and xenophobia. Particularly since I don't you'd sign a position banning Britons from entering Romania.

    2. Why on earth would I want to do that.

      people always forget that there are many European countries far better off than the UK. They also forget that for those with a bit of get up and go, there is no reason why a Brit cannot shift himself to Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, France, Denmark, Holland, Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein...

      So instead of whinging about these people coming over here and taking our jobs, why not trot over there and take theirs.

      Oh, but that would involve learning another language, still, my Bulgarian friend has already mastered German, English and Spanish and is now working on French, so shouldn't be too difficult to learn just one...

    3. I'm still appalled that UK xenophobia gets more signatures than against the cuts and other nonsense the government is doing. Divide and conquer is working, sadly.

      I desperately want to go to iceland, actually and I am working on attempting to do so, which does mean learning the language. At least over there being an artist and a writer isn't considered being unemployed and a "joke".

      On the blog itself, well done, and well said. You are a real firebrand, George, and I salute you for it.

  2. Surely it'd be better for us to ban our leadership?

  3. Well put. It's where I've got to too. Sadly, the next logical step is 'what is the point of being a member?' if you can't influence policy. Voting at conference is the only consistent thing* (I think??) that makes a difference between being an non-member activist and being a member...

    * Voting for local party exec doesn't count, not much of a choice there - neither does voting for the selection of local council candidate as that isn't contested, and as for my MP who reliably votes against Lib Dem policy...nothing I can do

  4. George you are the only one with the guts to say it - good man! Now give them hell!!!

  5. The membership won't do anything. The only thing they could do that would make the MPs take notice would be to threaten their re-election. But they won't do that. They'll whinge about it for a bit, and then knuckle down and do what they're told.

  6. Great article, George. I don't think we should ban conference, but yeah, completely see your point. MPs can vote how they wish but if they want to stand under the Liberal Democrat banner and have our activists campaign for and support them then they have to start acting like they ideologically belong in our party. What's going on now is far from good enough, plus secret courts were a massive slap in the face after all the time, effort and money the members poured into Eastleigh.

  7. The Leadership are taking you for a ride - wake up - they'll use you for support & give nothing back. Time to say no more!

  8. I completely agree with you, I've always thought the worst thing about conference is that power in the party lies with those who can afford to attend...but as you've stated, that's clearly not the case now.

    I don't understand a democratic party that doesn't do what the membership wants, kinda defeats the point.

  9. Sorry mate. As a recent(ish) LibDem voter and as someone who has been a bit mean at you in your comments before I sympathise.

    Don't casually dismiss the orange bookers, I reckon they're the reason why your MPs are behaving like Tory groupies atm.

    In my view true Liberalism must include an element of enabling people. If you can't join in you're not liberated right?

    Have fun at your conference. If you lose the will to live I suggest this for your next weekend away...

  10. Lots of admiration for you Mr P. It may take someone like yourself to actually put your party back in order

  11. I can only concur George.The LibDem MP,s,seem to have forgot the Democratic part of being a Liberal Democrat.If Clegg and the Orange Bookers had not done has they have,the LibDem number of MP,s could have actually grown to a size to form a Government.

    Or at least got AV through.A lot of people did not vote for AV to send a message to LibDem MP,s.But they ignored it.

    I only hope there is something salvageable for such as you,post 2015.

  12. Well done George. There are so few people of honour in politics these days.

    Any party that can stand by and allow the continuation of the Work Capability Assessments is neither Liberal nor democratic. Just power crazed.

    The people you promised to represent are being made the scapegoats for a failed eonomic policy. Worse, this was the Tory ideological intention anyway - the economy is simply a heaven sent cover story.

    The Lib Dems have voted for every aspect of the Welfare Reform Act, despite amendments from the Lords, consultations, petitions, warnings from every sector. Sick and disabled people live every day in fear. Many have not survived.

    The Lib Dems ennabled that. Voters will not forget or forgive.

    Conference must demand the leadership demads an immediate end to this barbarity. Nothing less will do.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. george you just stick to these facts and fight this corner and save life

      George if you can get your head around it and be the first person in a conference to talk about the many deaths and stand your corner as you wont have long to speak but if he gets lucky the sick and disables might get somewhere

      even if you get five minutes and you cover the thousands of deaths that'll will go around the world fast and you'll get the credit the government wont be able to bury it

      surprise everyone and do the right thing

      Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients

      This statistical release presents the number of deaths of recipients of incapacity
      benefits, that is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and its predecessors
      Incapacity Benefit (IB) and Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA). For those who
      have moved from IB/SDA to ESA and then died and for new ESA claimants who died
      the figures are split into those who were in the Support Group (SG) and those who
      were in the Work Related Activities Group (WRAG). The figures are derived from
      administrative data held by the Department for Work and Pensions.

      In October 2008, existing benefits paid on grounds of incapacity and disability, that is
      IB, SDA and Income Support (IS) on the grounds of incapacity, were replaced with
      Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for all new claimants. Starting from
      October 2010 most claimants who receive IB, SDA and IS paid on the grounds of
      illness or disability will be assessed to see if they qualify for ESA.
      A key part of the ESA regime is the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process,
      which is used to assess capability for work and eligibility for benefit. Those claiming
      ESA are initially put in the assessment phase. Following the assessment phase the
      claimant can have three possible outcomes:
      Individuals can be found fit for work – in this case their claim closes and the
      claimant can move to Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or it remains open pending
      recourse against the decision, via reconsideration from DWP or appeal to Her
      Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service.
      Individuals can be found to have limited capability for work – in this instance
      they are allowed the benefit and placed in the Work Related Activity Group.

      Those in this group are not expected to work, but are provided with help and
      support to prepare for work where possible. They receive a higher payment
      than those on JSA; and
      Individuals can be found to have limited capability for work and in addition,
      limited capability for work related activity – in this situation they are allowed the
      benefit and placed in the Support Group. Those in this group have the most
      severe functional impairments and so are provided with unconditional support
      and receive a higher premium than those in the Work Related Activity Group.

      hopefully Someone good with the maths will be able to work out the overall death rate that runs into thousands ... s_0712.pdf

  14. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first
    comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.
    I will keep visiting this blog very often.
    flights to Umrah
    cheap flight to jeddah
    flights to jeddah
    umrah jeddah flights
    umrah flights from London
    cheap flights to umrah

  15. Time to accept the real political battle is between the neoliberal Toffs and the rest. This is no doubt why you've got multi-millionaires in pole positions in all three major parties, it's been planned this way. Form an anti-neoliberal party and poiliticians will flock to it from all three parties.

  16. I just finished the blog. Really very helpful. Thanks for sharing such an amazing blog.
    Stone Split Face


I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

I am happy to address most contributions, even the drunken ones if they are coherent, but I am not going to engage with negative sniping from those who do not have the guts to add their names or a consistent on-line identity to their comments. Such postings will not be published.

Anonymous comments with a constructive contribution to make to the discussion, even if it is critical will continue to be posted. Libellous comments or remarks I think may be libellous will not be published.

I will also not tolerate personation so please do not add comments in the name of real people unless you are that person. If you do not like these rules then start your own blog.

Oh, and if you persist in repeating yourself despite the fact I have addressed your point I may get bored and reject your comment.

The views expressed in comments are those of the poster, not me.