Lib Dems – beards, bags and sweeties
Here in sunny Glasgow, Tim Farron’s just done a Presidential address. He said he’d been described as “Nick’s ambassador to Planet Beard.” In the usual polished and witty performance he found time to thank Nick Clegg for putting him in charge of next year’s doomed local election campaign. He also thanked members for staying on late to listen to a slot he may think was unsympathetically scheduled. Mr Farron is sounding more and more like someone who could win a future leadership election, even if the MPs’ vote went to a more Cleggite candidate (at this stage, most widely seen as Ed Davey). But that’s not a contest that is imminent.
Last year the central message for Nick Clegg to deliver at his conference was that the coalition was for the full 5 years. The subliminal message was that Nick Clegg wasn’t just for Christmas, he was for the full 5 years too. This year, the message is all about trying to get the credit for what the Lib Dems have done in government.
Their imported South African strategist, Ryan Coetzee, talks about the Lib Dems’ electoral “market” being the 25% of voters who say they will or might vote Lib Dem. Their polling suggests that when the undecided segment of this “market” hears about what the Lib Dems have done in coalition, they like what they hear. But they have to hear what the Lib Dems are stopping the Tories doing in office, not just what they are getting implemented from their own plans.
So Nick Clegg, who used to forbid talk of the inner workings of the coalition, now advertises them – he’ll do more of that in his rally speech tonight. At the Liverpool conference in 2010, Nick Clegg proclaimed that the coalition partners together were better than either of their parties apart – many here in Glasgow never liked that and the “lifting the veil (on coalition disagreements)” strategy as it’s called by the leadership can’t come fast enough. There have been in recent months some pretty brittle clashes within the coalition: nursery ratios and the Lords ambushes over Levenson to name but two. The leadership has decided the course of such clashes prove that the coalition can withstand divisions like that.
Nick Clegg’s had to re-think some of his grid here. He’d hoped to announce the plastic bag tax tomorrow on Andrew Marr’s programme but the plastic bag dropped out into the street on the front of the Daily Mail today and has been littering other newspapers and websites all day. So Nick Clegg did his nature reserve photo op today and will have to think of something else to unveil tomorrow.
The coalition partners tend to divvy up about 10 “sweeties” or conference policy announcements each at this team of year. Danny Alexander’s tax avoidance measures announcements have become something of a fixed part of the conference calendar in recent years. I’m told many party members travel to conference just to hear them in person.