Saturday, September 23, 2006

Brighton rocks

So, have the LDs had a good conference?

Well, there was a dearth of the traditional fringe sandalista element that ends up with the party being mandated to allow 16 year olds to appear and buy pornography - which is a shame for us Labour campaigners, because you used to be able to rely on the nutcase wing of the party to give us some good stuff.

Ming gave a reasonable speech and won the day on his tax plans, so he seems to have secured his leadership for the time being - at least until the next time he cocks up. While Lembit approved, Simon Hughes gave it a resounding 7/10 - somewhat less than the fulsome support a leader normally expects from his senior colleagues (at least in public). The emnity between Campbell and Kennedy continues, with the latter refusing a public handshake with the new leader and the former not mentioning his predecessor in the speech at all - odd, given that even Gordon and Tony have worked together to try and generate a united image for public consumption.

The problem remains that the press view of Ming is that he is too old and merely the caretaker minding the store until the young prince is ready to take charge. That is colouring all the coverage of the conference - even the photocall with the more photogenic women candidates only highlighted the yawning age gap, while also pointing out how unrepresentative of the population the parliamentary Liberal Democrat party currently is. The tax plans intrigue me - not least the fact that as the function of green taxes is to change people's behaviour, the outcome should be a fall in overall taxation revenue. Instead, the Liberal Democrats promise a frankly unbelievable package that will deliver a revenue neutral return, change behaviour and benefit 90% of the population, with just 10% paying more. They promised something similar for their local income tax proposals, but it transpired that average income couples would find that tax bill jumping significantly.

Like Yellow Peril, I draw your attention to the views of Alan Rusbridger in the Guardian,
Not every party conference speech needs to fly high to be counted a success, which is fortunate for Sir Menzies since his performance, which improved as he went on, was only a little better than routine. A self-assembly kit of useable themes and stock phrases, the text did the job without touching on anything that might be considered particularly brave or original. Much of it could have been cobbled together from the leftovers of past speeches from past leaders, all promising to take "the tough decisions that really make a difference to people's lives". There is nothing distinctive about that. His claim to address "the politics of substance" ran little further than a summary of tax policy that has already been much discussed.
Even more surprising was the assault launched on Cameron by Campbell, who

portrayed his Tory rival as an unprincipled, policy-free man whose reshaping of his party was worthy of a former PR man... 'Political parties shouldn't be glorified advertising agencies'... 'And while you are at it, Mr Cameron, you should apologise for the last Tory manifesto which you wrote — one of the most reactionary, unpleasant, Right-wing manifestos of modern times.'

Simon Hoggart reckons that the party has changed and become as middle management as the rest of us, except..

One thing that hasn't changed is the sense that, with the Lib Dems, we are dealing with a rather lonely boy in his bedroom. Some such have model railways, some invent new planets and go on to become bestselling science fiction writers. Others, like the Lib Dems, create masterplans for the management of an entire society and nation.
Elsewhere, even the mild-mannered Greens are riled. This is party that has no leader, just 'principle speakers', so to get them het up is quite an achievement, but the Liberal Democrats have managed it, just as they have wound up other political groups with their inconsistency and Keith Taylor spoke for all of us

When people vote Green, they get Green. When they vote Liberal Democrat, they are crossing their fingers and hoping. If the Liberal Democrats were consistent, we could have some respect for them, but look across the country, where Lib Dem councillors are supporting airport expansion and road-building, and Sir Menzies' views count for nothing.
Ain't that the truth. Harry's Place fingers an example of this - it is fine for the Lib Dems to demand that the NHS funds a treatment as yet unassessed by NICE, but wrong for the MoD to allow combat surgeons to take clinical decisions to use a life-saving drug similarly untested. Consistency? Not a hope.

A few words from that political sage and permanent fiancee Sian Lloyd seems to have generated more interest than most of the real politics from Brighton this week. From Guido:
Lembit Opik has just told Victoria Derbyshire on Five Live that he has a big secret that some people would consider to be in the same league as Charles Kennedy and Mark Oaten...
Whatever could it be?

The rumour mill has been working extra shifts on this one and some of the thoughts veer from the mildly odd to the downright freaky.

Leather? Dogging? Swinging? Liberalism?

Don't speculate too much, it could be bad for your eyesight. Speaking of Liberal Democrat scandals - what on earth persuaded Mark Oaten to take his wife off to Bangkok for a holiday, with his reputation? She'll keep him on a very short leash - except he might enjoy that.

And now, Hurricane Gordon hits Manchester.

Even though I got it wrong on Clare Short, who miraculously survived expulsion this week - probably because she hasn't actually campaigned against the party (yet) - there's part of me that wonders if this week might be the last straw for Tony. Just think - a resignation announcement at the end of the conference would drown out any publicity that the Tory conference might generate the following week as the leadership campaign spooled up to take-off power.


elephunt said...

Actually I think Shorty survived because a)the party realised she's now like the mad aunty who has lost her marbles and an explusion would just give her more of a platform and b) she back pedalled furiously on the hung parliament suggestion by claiming she was simply criticising Blair.

As for the LDs I thought Ming's speech was dreadful and the party's new tax platform is impossibly complex and, far more importantly, wide open to attack from both 'left' and 'right'.

Simon said...

I thought the Ming speech was OK content-wise, but nothing can change the fact he is a fundamentally boring man. Not quite as boring as Vince Cable, but still boring. I have no problem with sixtysomethings in politics, but when the sixtysomethings are as dreary as those two you do have something of an image problem.

Mind you, people seem to be taking John Reid seriously as the anyone-but-Brown candidate but he's looked about 75 for the last decade.

Andy said...

> Even more surprising was the assault launched on Cameron by Campbell

Why on earth was that surprising? 1) We hate the oily little creep and 2) kill him off and the whole party dies too.

PoliticalHack said...

Why was it surprising? Because everyone - not least Cameron - seems to assume that a hung parliament would mean a Tory/LibDem coalition. I still think that is a racing certainty if Labour fail to win an outright majority, but there was some venom there from Campbell. Perhaps he has finally realised that a number of those Lib Dem seats are vulnerable to the blue rinse.

Andy said...

I'm not saying we wouldn't hold our noses and work with Cameron if we had to, but believe me we'd much *much* rather squash him flat if we possibly can. I asked Ming about Cameron when I interviewed him for my blog (links 1 2 3) and from the reply it was clear there is genuine personal dislike and contempt there. And I think the more Orange Bookish you get in the Lib Dems, the greater the contempt for the Tories. Not sure why that should be, but there you go. We really really aren't queueing up to put him in Number 10.

Praguetory said...

PH - I was surprised by the attack too. More vicious than any attack on Labour leadership. Piece of meat for the activists I think?