I'm back from Bournemouth, a little the worse for wear, and five days behind with my messages and the rest of my life. It is all coming back to me so slowly, and I've had so little sleep since last week... perhaps it's best if I just make another cup of tea, start from what I remember best and work from there. Mmm, tea.
So, I suppose the most attention-grabbing thing for non Lib-Dems out of conference news coverage was that fight. Mild-mannered touchy-feely 'limp demics' as my dear rabidly tory cousin calls them, getting in *fights*? Can't be right!
So, what is one of our MPs doing getting so angry with a former head of press? Well, I can't say exactly what the argument was, I'm not Adrian Sanders. But it might help to know, if you didn't already, that Mark Littlewood is considered by most people in the party who mention him to be a swivel-eyed lunatic who is hell-bent on the destruction of the Liberal Democrats. Having been to the fringe event they ran after the one where the controversial document was launched, I can understand that point of view entirely.
Mark Littlewood's Liberal Vision pressure group take the definition of liberalism and stretch it out to some pretty damn extreme conclusions for their own ends.
I have to admit, I grin with recognition at the attitude that "liberalism means allowing everyone to go to hell in their own sweet way". I believe that it is part of the task of any liberal party to attack the nanny state where it interferes with people's lifestyle choices. Bansturbation by the other two parties seems to increase all the time and I can only imagine the climax they're aiming for is some kind of classical dystopia, where any hope of a happy society and any sense of empowerment of people is crushed by illiberal law after illiberal law, and increase after increase in police power, until we all live in enough fear to behave ourselves exactly as our government wants us to. You can hear echoes of this feeling in Nick Clegg's speech (on which more later) - we despair of the pessimism rife in politics these days and instead present the alternative of a trusting, optimistic party that believes that given the choice, most people will do the right thing.
HOWEVER. The dangerous extrapolation of this theory into ultra-small-state lunacy by Liberal Vision, and the way that this faction like to ally themselves with the party as if we are naturally going to agree with their every word is, well, probably enough to make you want to shove someone rather hard over a wall on its own, even before they have personally offended you. On further questioning at their meeting on Tuesday lunchtime, members of the panel said among other things (I précis and paraphrase as it was far too busy to take notes) that we should allow people to drink and drive should they wish (yes, that was Gavin Webb, I don't think we have anyone else that crashingly extreme in their libertarianism around); that we shouldn't balance freedom of choice with the state provision of help to level the playing field for people who were born at a disadvantage, because freedom should engender greater individual responsibility; that while freedom of choice over what to do on your own property naturally meant that people who own houses and other presmises have a wider range of choices, those who don't still have the choice to say, sell their organs as their body is their property so that's ok. Gah!
I picked up a copy of the 'Cameron Effect' report that had allegedly caused all the trouble. It doesn't make pretty reading. In fact, it amounts to forty pages of "ooh, you'd better be scared, the tories are coming", followed up with a rallying cry from Liberal Vision and the Taxpayers' Alliance (more swivel-eyed lunatics then) to the Lib Dems to not stop at tax cuts for those who need them, but give tax cuts to everyone. Yay! No taxes!
*head -> desk*
Here's the thing: we are not announcing a package of tax cuts for those who need them most because we're quaking in our boots about the hollow threat of the tories (or 'Blue Labour' as Clegg aptly named them yesterday). We are merely applying the values we have always had to the conditions we face. Recognising that in the face of massive inflation and/or interest rate increases, a fairer distribution of the tax burden is absolutely crucial to the retention of a reasonable quality of life for anyone earning anything up to a middle income. I'd love to know how people can look at us as we propose a new tax rate of 50p in the pound for anyone earning over £100k and still say we're moving to the right, I really don't get it. We are NOT becoming a right wing party, we don't even WANT to become a right-wing party, and we WILL NOT bow to pressure from people Mark Littlewood and his little uber-libertarian group to become a more right wing party.
For those who weren't at the 'How Liberal Are the Liberal Democrats?' event on Tuesday, you also missed two other things:
First, Lembit won something! He came top of Liberal Vision's dubious list where they ranked all our MPs from most to least Liberal, by some very narrow criteria. I have trouble commending their methodology or the document. It looks like something that was put together in three hours by a sixth-form student, and how anyone can end up with Tom Brake (yes, the MP who used a precious ten minute rule bill to call for a ban on the sale of cannabis seeds, causing a reaction like this among the estimated two million cannabis smokers in the UK - cheers Tom!) as tenth most liberal MP in our party is definitely doing it wrong. Seems to me to be a document that was hastily slapped together in order to give an enticing title and description to a fringe meeting at conference to ensure extremely high attendance. Could that be because they had some ulterior motive for getting lots of conference reps in a room to attempt to pour honey in their ears? Let's think...
Second, a really hilarious attempt at creating drama, and thereby a story and a credible campaign for presidency of the federal party by Chandiler Fernando. Now, much as I think for the sake of democracy and a more engaging contest, I would love to see more than two entrants into this competition, I couldn't bring myself to sign a nomination paper for a) a defected tory who is no less than the director of the organisation I've spent most of this post denigrating; or b) a campaign this ludicrously launched and staged. Imagine if you will the atmosphere in the extremely packed room where the meeting I described above had taken place, some heated questions had been asked, and the clipboard with a sheet asking people to sign up for more information from the hosts was languishing at the back of the room, having picked up about five names in total from the people who had come along mostly to argue with Gavin Webb and see if they could see any bruises on Mark Littlewood. Now imagine an elderly gentleman who had been planted in the crowd standing up and shouting enthusiastically about how we were about to witness the latest entrant into the race to become party president, waving papers in the air like he thought he was Neville Chamberlain. And imagine the exchanged smirks across the room as Fernando stepped up to the front of the room and looked slightly gormless while his plant continued to rant and exhort people to sign his nomination papers. Oh boy. Good luck with that one, Chandiler. I can't see you getting very far.