Published on 20 Sep 2011

Lib Dem conference: inside the belly of the yellows

It’s the two policemen with sub-machine guns on the door that announces change as you arrive at the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham. Guns and barriers have not previously been part of the Lib Dem way. Gone too is that sense of the whole food faithful, up from the non-conformist corners of Great Britain for a prayer meeting. Gone too the open-toed sandals, though not yet – amongst older male delegates – the beards.

The strand of ruthlessness that was castigated by Labour and Conservatives alike in some Local Lib Dem seat fighting operations, has finally delivered a political gathering that rivals the once “big two”.

Make no mistake; this conference does something that the Liberal Democrats (and Liberals before them) have not achieved in a century. They have achieved a gathering that is focused, professional, branded, and coherent.

The hall is very yellow, but despite its yellowness, rather nicely done. Its slogan is nicely understated- “In government, on your side”. Tri-partite politics in Britain may finally have come of age – at least for a moment.

For many Liberal Democrats at last year’s conference, power seemed to have discombobulated, even corrupted the purity of what some regarded as their eccentric roots. But this year there is a swelling, a puffing, a confidence even, and yes, a surprising enjoyment of the power of being in power.

So that wending my way to my nondescript conference hotel bed last night, the cacophony of sound in the foyers of partying hotels through which I passed was as dense and as loud as I have known at either Tory or Labour gatherings.

Follow the Channel 4 News live blog for the latest at the Lib Dem conference

It would be no exaggeration to say that central Birmingham rocked last night. Maybe it does every Monday night – I have no way of knowing.

But anyone who expected a hangdog, hate Clegg, hate Cameron, dissatisfied coming together here would be disappointed.

For now, the Lib Dems have met coalition politics – for which town hall life has already well prepared them – and are enjoying it.

Despite their poll ratings and the last local election wipe out, there is an inescapable feeling of momentum here. It may be fragile – it doesn’t feel it. Yellow – which is everywhere – doesn’t yet feel like the historic building blocks of Red and Blue for the other parties, but it feels less cluttered by history than either.

The other party players on the UK national scene may have some serious adjustments to make to recognise the new scenery.

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12 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    You got this much right: the Cleggies HAVE been “branded” – they’re now full fledged Tories…which is what they always yearned to be.

    The rest of your contribution is, I fear, utter tosh. 1/10, one hour detention.

    1. adrian clarke says:

      Philip i agree with most except its Cameron who has turned a YELLOW Liberal

    2. jon snow says:

      Philip I merely report what I saw..if it’s tosh go check for yourself..there is a marked distinction to be seen..head in the sand if you prefer…thinking they are all Tories could end in tears…some Lib Dems are well to the left of Labour (whatever that is!)

    3. Philip Edwards says:


      Response much appreciated. I know you have a busy time with deadlines, which is why I never expect a reply.

      In this case I didn’t make myself clear. I apologise.

      My opinion was concerned with the generality, not individual specific. In any party you can always find a few who are opposed to the leadership, even the Cleggies. In this case the dissenters will be a mere handful and of no consequence.

      But it would take a monumental act of wilful ignorance not to note their ACTUAL performance in the coalition. This especially applies to their compliance with extreme right wing policies in the NHS, education, economics and housing. Their betrayal is palpable. Vince Cable in particular cuts a pathetic picture these days. Clegg himself is just another political power spiv.

      There was too a time when we used to hear about “progressive Tories,” but I never ever met one. So I wasn’t exactly surprised when they eventually became a sort of diluted Republican Party at best. The results exploded on your doorstep a few weeks ago, the national underbelly of poverty finally exposed in its rightful place.

      None of it surprises me, largely because I am a Socialist with a sense of history.

  2. Philip says:

    There is, however, a fundamental dishonesty running through the conference: the populist “bash the Tories” message while actually acquiescing in policies they stood against at the last general election. The activists & political sophisticates may be content/understand this, but I doubt whether many LibDem voters do.

  3. Gary says:

    They will get more credibility when they disolve their coalition agenda and start to develop and talk about policy that is sensible and not conforming to a Tory line.

    Failing that, see you in 50 years time when you realise the big mistakes that you made again this time.

  4. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    I had a feeling that you would blog with a disparaging comment about nick Clegg , but well done, no evidence of negative reciprocation.

    Yes I do agree with your perspective on the coalition and your awareness that the balance of opinion and power is very tenuous one, which will mutate when the wind blows.

    1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      When some see an influential figure putting another influential figure down and the bandwaggon seems to behind the former, the power seekers/ yellow bellies like to jump on it.

      Confrontation takes the guise of a much stronger character which ever way the wind is blowing.

      Nick Clegg sid that you don’t play politics with peoples lives. ARE POLITICS NOT ABOUT PEOPLE?

      Narrative which even suggests that politics is an objective discipline which can be used for the people and contrary to this ,some other strange entity is banal and pseudo popularity gathering. Come on don’t belittle our intelligence.

  5. jonzyblog says:

    I work near the NIA/ICC and the resounding thought for me was one of sadness and irritation, that we now appear to live in a society where every major road leading to the conference is blocked, barricaded, over policed and ridiculously OTT. Yes they were branded, all very slick and I spotted only a few die hard oldies as John Snow’s blog noted but, come on, even the food vans had a police escort!!!! that delayed my journey as the faffed about like something out of ‘Chips’ – unbelievable. My only highlight from the whole debacle was seeing John Snow walking though Paradise forum this morning whilst I was on my way to work so thanks for that John – Please pass onto them the following, Could we spend less on needless over policing the Lib Den conference and offset that against the ridiculous cuts being made to essential and needed NHS services.

  6. camaaron says:

    I hate having to look up the meanijng of big diffiuclt words and I thought I had quaite a good vocabulalry; Its offputting ad it makes his snowblogs longwinded and complciated to folow.

    Jon SNow is really showing off his form at the party confernce; His voice and pronuication must makes his felow newsdasters from all channels cringe with envy.

    Wonder if he’s the type to pinch little souvenirs as momnetoes and souvenirs from allt he hotels he’s stayed in all over the owrld; I am from my travels. He’s much more well traveleld too;

    Ask him how tasty teh goat which he massacred with his swiss army knife was on his travels through Atfica in 1978.

  7. Moonbeach says:
  8. adrian clarke says:

    Jon, where i agree that the Libs are very much stating we are in power and we control the Tories, i feel their optimism will burst when it comes to the electrate.
    As a Tory i feel we are giving a handful of MP’s too much credence and influence.Not only too much influence but accepting their hatred of the right,particularly over Europe the Euro,Human rights and even financial policy.They are being allowed to water down the Tory policies that this country wants and needs.
    I believe it shows the weakness of coalition and the dangers of ever going to proportional representation

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