Thoughts From the Lib Dem Conference 47

The atmosphere of the conference was fascinating – most definitely not triumphalist, but sober and determined. There was a general view that we are heading for a period of unpopularity, but that we are doing the right thing in constructing a government.

Having paid attention to about 70% of the speeches, I am still of the view there was no earthly reason to have the deliberations in secret.

There was a general air of surprise at just how much the negotiating team had gained in policy commitment from the Tories, but combined with a strong undertow of distrust of many of the Tory figures in the government. Successive Lib Dem ministers promised they would make the Tories stick to their commitments.

I an increasingly of the view that in the negotiations the Lib Dems, being natural policy wonks, were concentrated on getting policies on paper, whereas the Tories were pragmatically unconcerned about what was on paper, but rather determined to get their people with their hands on all the main levers of power. There is a danger that Lib Dem ministers will be disconnected gears.

The conference passed a whole series of amendments reaffirming the Lib Dem commitment to policies including eventual abolition of tuition fees – and no increases – and PR. All the biggest cheers came for attacks on New Labour’s appalling civil liberties record. Simon Hughes made the best speech of the day.

The coaliton agreement was passed overhelmingly – I would estimate by about 1,000 to about 30. I voted for it, and was much comforted in that by the fact that old friends like Tony Greaves, Richard Moore, Alistair Carmichael and David Grace did so too.

Meeting old friends was the best bit of the day. It was great to talk with Richard Moore again – he was a key influence on the teenage Craig Murray, and his passion for human rights and democracy in the developing world has not been dimmed by his 79 years. He made a rousing speech, which included the observation that any “rainbow coalition” would have been in hock to the bigots of the DUP.

I spent a most enjoyable half hour sitting at the back of the hall with Alistair Carmichael, making silly jokes and giggling as though we were students again. It was hard to remember he is now the government deputy chief whip – and I think he relished the chance to forget it for a few minutes.

As always with party conferences, it was what you learnt in the bar that was by far the most interesting.

The negotiations woth the Tories on reform of the House of Lords are worrying. The Tories are insisting on “grandfather rights” – those now in the House of Lords, or a large percentage of them, will remain members until they die. Including those new Lords about to be appointed by the parties. They also propose that elected members of the House of Lords should serve a twelve year term. I’ll say that again, a twelve year term. Worryingly the Lib Dem negotiators seem inclined to go along with that ludicrous proposal.

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47 thoughts on “Thoughts From the Lib Dem Conference

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  • technicolour

    I can’t believe people are seriously accepting the idea of an elected ‘upper’ chamber. Why? What earthly good will it do?

    And I can’t quite believe the snobbery, either. Who’s more ‘talented’ – a decent plumber or Mandelson? As for Jade Goody, poor woman, no bad thing if Parliament were to have to stop while MP’s admitted they had no clue about what was going on & went off to research it. At the moment they don’t even have time to read the legislation being tsunami-d through the chamber, let alone understand it.

  • Iain Orr

    Thank you, Craig, for that succinct account of the conference. You pointed to some of the dangers – LibDem ministers with gears disconnected from the political engineroom. It will not just be Nick Clegg’s task (as Deputy PM) to spot the danger signs and act. Clear-eyed observers, sympathetic to the reasons why the LibDems decided this coalition was the best option, need to be on guard too.

    But, please, can those who share fundamental liberal values look out for opportunities and not just for Tory traps. It should be one strength of a healthy coalition that it is easier to correct policies that go wrong because it is recognised from the outset that the parties each bring their own perspective. Even without occupying the posts of S of S for Defence or Foreign Affairs, LibDem ministers and backbenchers are in a far better position to restrain the warmongering parts of the Conservative Party than were Robin Cook and the Labour rebels to restrain Blair.

  • glenn

    Thank you for your comments, Craig, Jon, Mark and Clark. That’s a relief to know!

  • Alfred

    Re: A truly democratic upper house


    Because you would get a lot of Jane Goodys and Nick Ferraris, the largest group will be Sun or Express readers, and many of them would not want to do it.”

    But “Sun readers are the backbone of the country,” that very nice and intelligent Mr. Cameroon said so:

    If they’re smart enough to vote Conservative, they’re surely smart enough to serve in a house of sober second thoughts, as we, in Canada, call our upper houser of superannuated politicians.

    And you say, “I have no problem with the Burkean idea that the representative is meant to be more talented and informed than those who choose them.”

    But this is not a house of representatives we’re talking about. We talking about a house comprised of members of the commons selected at random, subject only to a test of literacy, numeracy and basic knowledge, i.e., assuring an IQ of something close to 100 or more — about what it takes, nowadays, to become a university professor.

    If you think such people are unfit to review legislation, you are in effect denying the feasibility of democracy, which is as I thought.

    But in that case, why notexplicitly advocate meritocracy, i.e., rule by, what used it to be, ten pound householders? Or maybe holders of a Ph.D. — sorry, you’d have no vote.

  • glenn

    Alfred – Sun readers are the backbone of Tory votes, is what Cameron actually meant. He’d no more spend quality time hanging out with such people than he would cleaning out the stables of his real friends.

    You are wide of the mark to consider either money or a the holding of a doctorate to be a measure of one’s merit, or worthiness of character. Both money and qualifications gravitate towards one born in fortunate circumstances.

    Perhaps you approved Blair’s twitterings on the notion of a meritocracy. Rather than rewarding merit, the most striking outcome would be to allow those lucky enough to find themselves well placed in such a system to be even more sneering, and even less sympathetic, of those not doing so well.

  • technciolour

    Again, I agree with Alfred? But thanks glenn, and yes, there could be a better word for meritocracy (though given Alfred’s view on university professors he might have been using the term sarcastically). Comfortablyoffcracy?

  • Alfred


    Re: People who read (if “read” is the right word) the Sun

    I was not being entirely serious. In fact, would one not expect your average Sun reader to fail any general knowledge test for prospective members of the upper house?

    As for criteria determining eligibility for an upper house, I was asking for clarification of Craig’s elitist preference.

    What I proposed was a house made up of randomly selected people able to demonstrate that they are of at least normal intelligence, i.e., those who, despite whatever deficiencies there may be with Britain’s school system, have achieved literacy, numeracy and a reasonable general knowledge of what is going on.

    These people would, be largely from the upper half of the intelligence spectrum, which means that about 40 percent of them would be on the 20th percentile or above in general intelligence (quite sufficient, if combined with adequate motivation, to achieve a first class honors degree).

    I think such a group would have every bit as much intellectual capacity, and a much broader basis of experience, to evaluate legislation than say the members of Lord Salisbury’s extended Cecil family, which ran the British Government (quite competently) around the beginning of the last century.

    In any case, I’d prefer a House of the People to a bunch of Craig’s meritocrats, or the financial backers of the government in power.

  • Owen Lee Hugh-Mann

    “As for Jade Goody, poor woman, no bad thing if Parliament were to have to stop while MP’s admitted they had no clue about what was going on & went off to research it.”

    Unfortunately, technicolour, ignorance is more frequently coupled with certainty than doubt. You have to reach a certain level of knowledge and intelligence before you realise just how much you don’t know. I agree that one shouldn’t read a book by it’s cover however, and I’d rather have a ‘House of Knaves’ in the literal sense (i.e. a journeyman, a trader or crafter who has completed an apprenticeship), than a House of Lords composed of knaves in the metaphorical sense, (an unprincipled, crafty person).

  • Tris

    Surely 4 years is sufficient. No grandfather rights and no elevation to the aristocracy. Just a Senate, like normal countries have.

    Can’t England see that this is the 21st century and princesses and frogs belong in fairy tales for children…. or sci- fi.

    If it pleases people to prat about with titles then let them. I care not a bit if the Duke of Devonshire wishes to be called His Grace the Duke, or even if George Foulkes wishes to be called Milord. Indeed I think I may style myself Prince Tristan. I just don’t expect to be a part of any parliament while I’m doing it.

  • Neil craig

    This country desperately needs a party committed to traditional liberalism. UKIP, a party which unlike the LudDims is committed to individual freedom, technological progress & market freedom & opposed to Luddism, criminal wars, racial genocide, slavery & organlegging may well fill the role. Certainly no liberal can support the LDs.

  • Alfred


    Why do UKIP have that awful purple ( website?

    And why are all their policy documents in pdf format with hideous pink and yellow highlights?

    As for Lord Pearson of Rannoch, I’m sure he’s frightfully decent, but that old-fashioned patrician, yet strangely unconfidant, manner with the funny glasses on the end of his nose and the Awxfud accent, cannot be a real winning combination.

    I thought Jimmy Goldsmith had a good idea creating a party to keep Britain a sovereign nation able to protect its manufacturing base. But it takes more than a good idea to have any impact in the political arena. If UKIP is to go anywhere at all, it seems to me that it needs total reconstruction.

  • Graham Gowland

    I though your speech was one of the most moving of the conference. I was shocked at the UK government’s statement on Torture you told conference about, and hope that nothing happens in my name like this.

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