The openness, honesty and glorious indiscipline of Lib Dem conference debates are one of the most refreshing things about the party. Journalists would rarely bother to sit through a full session, partly because the Lib Dems didn’t matter very much, and partly because it was well known that it was a broad church that was open about its differences.
Activists regularly take the stage to denounce party policy. Even frontbenchers deliver biting critiques of their own leader. I remember Steve Webb, the pensions minister, describing Clegg’s spending policy as “the audacity of gloom”. Clegg sat there with a fixed grin, less than twenty foot away. It was the best line of the whole conference.
There will no doubt be some similar outbursts on Sunday — and so there should. Nick Clegg has bet the ranch on this coalition. Activists will have strong views.
But it will all be behind closed doors, in secret, a scoop waiting to happen. A secret revolt is always a better story for us journalists than an open debate. From now on, every disgruntled Lib Dem activist will be fair game for the nation’s hacks. There’s always more value in a tale that Clegg appears desperate to cover up.
Is Britain’s most democratic party at risk of becoming one of the most short-sighted?