The Lib Dem conference, which starts on Saturday, could be an awkward affair for the party leadership. It is the first conference when Nick Clegg has been faced with members of his own parliamentary party calling for his resignation, and the second successive one where the party has been languishing in the polls.
The agenda for the conference shows the party leadership willing to give the faithful some red meat in the form of Tory-bashing motions. There is a motion insisting on national pay bargaining, one recommitting the party to Lords reform and one resisting any attempts to expand Heathrow.
But the biggest problem could come during the debate on the economy, when an amendment will be discussed calling for the government to rip up its fiscal mandate and take immediate measures to stimulate the economy.
The amendment, moved by Ed Randall, a lecturer in politics at Goldsmiths University, also aims a dart at the heart of George Osborne’s claims to economic success, saying:
It would be a mistake to attribute record low public sector borrowing costs to accelerated fiscal consolidation rather than to a flight to relative safety.
Simon Hughes, the party president, told journalists today that he doubted the amendment would pass, but that it was important that it should be debated. Party managers will be desperate to make sure it is not passed – if it is, it would automatically become party policy, making a mockery of the Coalition’s central purpose.
The economy debate should also give us a glimpse of the coalition debates going on behind the scenes over green energy. An amendment brought by Duncan Brack, the former adviser to Chris Huhne, the former energy secretary, is highly critical of Tory attempts to water down the green agenda. It reads:
Conference condemns the repeated attempts by the chancellor to inhibit growth in renewable energy, currently one of the UK’s most successful industries.
It goes on to advocate:
scrapping the review in 2014 of the fourth carbon budget target imposed by the chancellor, thereby establishing long-term certainty for investors in low-carbon technology and infrastructure
This is the first time anyone close to Huhne has admitted the review he announced last year was actually demanded by Osborne. It also gives us a clear sign as to how much argument the Tories’ reversal on green policies are causing within the government.