Saturday, September 17, 2011

#ldconf Saturday: In which both sides lose an argument

A somewhat shaky start to Lib Dem Conference saw conference reps deliver defeat to both sides in an argument about whether we should debate the current NHS Bill at this conference.

A bad result for the Federal Conference Committee (FCC) (in this instance a proxy for the leadership) as a clear majority of those voting made it clear that they want a proper debate on the Bill.

But also a bad result for those calling for the debate, as they demonstrated that they don't have quite the strength they need to force the issue.

The debate was also marred by some of the protaganists on both sides who on one side accused the FCC of 'Toryfying' our conference, and on the other accused the 'rebels' of acting like 'Militant'. 

As someone who has tried to deliver conference speeches with a crowd of Militants shouting at me on more than one occasion I can tell you that the Social Liberal Forum are as far from 'Militant' as Slayer are from having a Christmas No. 1.

For me this argument raises a wider question:  Have we adjusted the way we do things in response to being in Government?

The answer appears to be a resounding 'NO'.

The main arguments put against debating the NHS Bill were all about how we have a tradition of not debating policy on the same issue when it has been debated at a recent conference.

Well that was fine when we were in opposition, and when most of our policy debates were about deciding policy for the next General Election manifesto, but we're not in that position any more.

We are now part of a government, and playing a part in framing legislation.  It is vital, particularly where government policy goes well beyond both the coalition agreement and party policy, that our conference is given a say on issues of the day.

It is also the case that many of our members and activists are somewhere between unconvinced and downright hostile to quite a few things the government is doing.  And in our party it is hugely important that we have the opportunity to vent our concerns in an open and honest way.

It is also important that we take the opportunity to demonstrate to the wider public that we are fighting our corner within the coalition and that our position is not the same as the Tories'.

Any sense that debate within the party is being stifled, particularly on a key issue like the NHS, and we will simply start to lose people.

I don't know whether or not the FCC have had a proper discussion about these issues, or what conclusions they have come to if they have, but there is little evidence of it from the debate earlier today.

In Other News:

The mood is positive but more serious than a year ago.  The we were coming to terms with being in government but celebrating the fact that we were.  Now, and after a tough set of elections and the referendum, we are coming to terms with the downside.

Nice to see so many familiar faces though.

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