Being a Lib Dem, one of the things one has to put up with is constant slurs from the other parties that we are ‘soft on drugs’. This is a blatant misrepresentation of Lib Dem policy but one which sometimes sticks in the minds of some voters who don’t bother to check out the facts behind it.Cue todays Evening Standard front page. Undercover reporters have discovered traces of cocaine in the toilets at several Labour Conference hotels. Bearing in mind that security is tight, it does take some explaining doesn’t it? Perhaps the police and security personnel would be able to use their time better checking delegates for Class A drugs instead of ejecting elderly protesters and deleting MPs’ snapshots.
You just couldn’t make it up could you? First, veteran Labour Party member Walter Wolfgang, a memember for 57 years, is ejected forcibly for heckling on Iraq. The MP Austin Mitchell has his camera seized and his snaps deleted. Free speech and personal liberty trampled on in the name of security. Isn’t this just what Labour want to do to the rest of us? Is their Conference a microcosm of the jack-booted Britain their leadership wants for the rest of us?
Tories are a rum breed. Currently haggling over a ‘new’ system of electing the leader (purely because the wider membership keep getting it wrong) – maybe they should really simplify it more. Rule 1 – elect a leader the public might vote for. One way or another, they’ll finally find some method to elect the only leader the other two parties have any fear of (and regular readers will know who that is – here’s a clue – Hush Puppies, cigars).Meanwhile, I was intrigued by the news that hopeful Liam Fox has a blog. Maybe someone should tell him that a blog is not a sycophantic list of censored messages of support though! Stomach churning.
Back home in a rather wet Wycombe, I have time to reflect on this year’s Conference. Charles was on form for his closing address – speaking passionately about our core values and vowing to stand up for civil liberties in the face of an all out assault from this government. Interestingly, he also vowed not to allow the Lib Dems to become ‘a third conservative party’. True, there remain divisions on some areas of policy – but I remain convinced that we are still the most united of the three main parties. All parties will contain differences of opinion. But the mature politician must allow the issues to be debated – and then accept the majority view. If they thought we were divided, I can’t wait to see what happens to the Tories next!
Mischievous elements within the party gave the impression to the press that there was a crisis in confidence in the leadership of Charles Kennedy. Now I don’t pretend to know who has been causing this (although I have my suspicions – I have no desire to be sued!) – but the result has been that every reporter from the lowliest hack to the most respected of TV journalists has been trying to find this division and make it the story of the Conference. I attended the recording of Adam Boulton’s special for Sky News yesterday, and he could not find anyone who did not fully support Charles Kennedy. And why should we – he has delivered us the most successful results we have yet enjoyed, and has a high standing both within the party and with the general public.
The real story, in my view, is the complete rejection by the party rank and file of the ‘Orange Book’ vision of the future of Liberalism. I don’t normally have too much difficulty with anything Mark Oaten says, but yesterday he accused most of the Orange Book detractors as having “not read it”. Mark, this is patronising and insulting to most Liberals, who tend to consider their views with care. Intriguingly, despite renewed interest in the book, it is now “out of print”. If anyone is interested, I have a copy which I am happy to part with for the cost of post and packing. It has been read, carefully, once. There is much in it that any Liberal would agree with – but there is also much that the majority of us do not.
Liberal Democrats have received much respect for consistently following their beliefs and consciences. We have examined the ideas put foward in the Orange Book – and decided that they depart to far from what we hold to be the Lib Dem vision. That is why we rejected privatising the Post Office (something even Margaret Thatcher would not have dared to try). It is worth remembering that our party blends two traditions – the Liberal tradition and the Social Democratic one. It attempts to draw on the best of both of these in forming an honest, freedom-loving and socially responsible political stance. We are at our best when we do this successfully – and Charles Kennedy appears to appreciate this, which is why he retains our loyalty.