Lib Dem Conference

Michael Moore began his speech in storm-battered Brighton this morning with a joke:

In an ever-changing world, it’s reassuring to know that Brighton conference remains the same. Fabulous weather, delegates compliant with the leadership line…

Except it didn’t work, because this year the delegates actually have been compliant with the leadership line, even voting en masse in favour of the coalition’s economic policy. As one observer remarked to me: “It’s like they are in a trance-like state.” Read more

Vince Cable’s speech to Lib Dem conference was just about on-message as regard to the coalition’s economic strategy. We need the state, he said; we need a demand stimulus, he said; we are taking advantage of low interest rates and borrowing more, he said. But he didn’t quite call for more borrowing for an immediate fiscal boost.

In fact, any Lib Dem wanting to call for a departure from George Osborne’s Plan A will now find it very difficult to do so after the party conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of the current fiscal plan.

This morning, delegates were asked to vote for a motion backing the “difficult decisions taken by the coalition government” and calling for the government to “do everything possible to stimulate growth within its fiscal mandate” (emphasis mine). Read more

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. Read more

Tim FarronI wrote on Monday that Lib Dem president Tim Farron’s barnstorming speech at party conference would have looked like a leadership bid if he hadn’t gone to such lengths to praise Nick Clegg.

Well his parliamentary colleagues see it slightly differently. I have spoken to many of them in the last few days, including government ministers, and the overwhelming sense is that this was very much Farron’s leadership pitch, albeit for 2015, after the next election.

Farron himself has further fuelled such gossip, telling BBC 5 Live this morning:

I love doing my job and my job is to be the MP for Westland. That is my number one job. I have a mandate from the Liberal Democrats as well to be their president, I have absolutely no ambition other than that.

Of course there is no ruling it out in the future.

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Nick CleggThree days in to Liberal Democrat party conference, and the strain of endless speeches, fringe meetings and late night drinking is starting to show. Especially, it seems, for Nick Clegg, who gave a somewhat grumpy performance during a 45-minute long Q&A session this afternoon.

He began, quite early on, by mocking a lack of follow up questions to one of his answers, saying:

What docility! This is like a North Korean conference meeting.

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My Bloomberg colleague Rob Hutton got it right when we walked into a small side room at Birmingham’s ICC on Sunday to watch Hugh Grant (and others) talk about phone hacking. As we were greeted by an explosion of flashing lightbulbs, he turned to me and commented: “It looks like the ending of Notting Hill.”

Hugh Grant, Martin Moore and Evan Harris at the Lib Dem conference

Grant was impressive, his clear speaking (punctuated by plenty of swearwords) gave some relief to the political wonkery that usually characterises conference. But at times bluntness began to look like superficiality, such as when he turned on the Met for trying to use the Official Secrets Act to force the Guardian to reveal its sources:

For the [police's new investigatory team] to turn on fellow goodies in this battle is worrying and also deeply mysterious.

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