Friday, September 25, 2009

Lib Dem Conference 2009: An armchair view

It takes more than a failure to attend the Conference to stop me writing for Liberal Democrat News. This column appears to today's issue.

Calder not at Conference

Party leaders used to warn their members against passing outlandish policies at Conference because “the world is watching us”. In the case of the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats, it generally turned out that the world had better things to do.

Which was odd. Because my first political memories come from the days when the BBC cleared its daytime schedules to bring the nation uninterrupted coverage of the party conferences. Even Watch with Mother was displaced.

So if you were off school with a cold you got Ian Mikardo instead of Mary, Mungo and Midge. Pogles’ Wood was cut down to make way for Sally Oppenheim. And the combined forces of Russell Johnston, David Penhaligon and Alan Beith trampled all over Camberwick Green.

Perhaps it was always a controversial move. Informed sources suggest that as early as 1965 this rescheduling was described by one angry BBC insider as “flobba lobba lob”.

Whatever the truth of that, viewing this week’s Liberal Democrat from Market Harborough rather than Bournemouth has shown me how much things have changed since those days. And not only because it is now the Lib Dem leaders who provide the outlandish policies.

There is still wall-to-wall television coverage, but it is now found only on the BBC Parliament channel. Watching it there makes you feel a little ashamed of your specialised interest. You half expect the screen to freeze after five minutes and demand your credit card number.

What coverage remains on the main channels hardly shows the debates at all. Instead you get a pundit telling you what a politician has just said or what she is about to say or what you could hear her saying now if only the pundit would shut up and let you listen.

So the best place to see the Liberal Democrat Conference today is on the main news bulletins.

That is a great victory for us, but it is also a challenge. As the last Euro elections showed, a Liberal Democrat vote is no longer an anti-establishment vote. If people vote are going for us in the future it will be because they have heard what we have to say and like what we offer.

Which brings us back to those outlandish policies.

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