Friday, September 19, 2008

Calder at Conference

A column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Turbulent times

There are two certainties about the Liberal Democrat Conference. The first is that the weather will be good. In fact, if I weren't a Lib Dem I would always choose mid September for my holidays.

It's just that, because of the second certainty, your house might not be there when you got back. Because you can also be sure the British economy will collapse.

This year share values are tumbling. Last year it was Northern Rock. And at Harrogate back in 1992, Sterling fell out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on Black Wednesday.

One thing is different for 2008. Conference still lasts five days, but this one started on Saturday rather that Sunday.

This has been popular with teachers, who in the past found it difficult to attend at all. At least now they get two full days.

So far, they have perhaps not made best use of them. I am told that Saturday's consultative session on education was dominated by them, but most began by saying pointedly it was a pleasure to be able to come to Conference at last. By then they had used up their time, so we never got to hear their exciting ideas on improving schools.

It is never hard to distinguish between a teacher with a grievance and a ray of sunshine, as P.G. Wodehouse might have put it, but maybe they will have got over it in time for next year.

Talking to a member of the organising committee, there is a worry that starting on a Saturday will lead to a situation where ordinary party members come for the weekend, but lobbyists and commercial exhibitors don't appear until Monday morning.

That would be what the Beveridge Group would call “a two-tier conference”, and it would be a shame.


We used to worry the Lib Dems were known for supporting proportional representation – and nothing else. This week I heard a story suggesting that has changed.

An MP (the meeting took place under Chatham House rules, so I cannot tell you it was David Howarth) reported falling into conversation with a young man on the train home from London.

“Tell me,” he said, “what is the Lib Dem position on electoral reform?”

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