Conference Kremlinology

Steven Gauge

One of the joys of the party conference season is the unrivalled opportunity to assess who's up and who's down in the party hierarchy. So, in my first few days at the Lib Dem conference here in Brighton, I've been indulging in a spot of Conference Kremlinology.

Seasoned conference watchers will have spotted that Comrade Jo Swinson is being looked upon very favourably by the party apparatchiks this week. The young Dunbartonshire MP was promoted in the reshuffle to a junior ministerial rank in BIS. On Saturday lunchtime, the party’s media managers chose Jo for the prestigious “Shake-the-hand-of-the-Leader-as-he-arrives-at-conference-in-front-of-the-cameras” slot. She followed that up with a barnstorming performance at that evening’s rally, where she had the audience eating out of her hand. Definitely one on the way up.

On the other hand, no sign this week of former MP and party star Lembit Opik who has fallen far from grace. In between dating weather forecasters and Cheeky Girls, Lembit has found the time to get himself a Private Pilot License. I did wonder whether the spectacular light aircraft aerobatic display that entertained conference delegates sitting outside the Grand Hotel on Saturday afternoon was Comrade Opik making a final defiant gesture to the party leadership.

All is not rosy in the Lib Dems. Miserable poll ratings and unfriendly doorsteps are unsettling a few of the comrades working out on the collective farms – sorry, I meant constituencies. In dark corners of the conference centre I’ve noticed a few plotters and schemers gearing up for a major battle with the leadership on the economy for Monday. I’ve spotted the head of a government minister’s constituency office in a huddle with a couple of the more left leaning faction leaders, all looking very serious and furtive. Best not to name them in case they get sent to the gulags, but I expect a packed hall and a difficult morning for the leadership on Monday. It will be interesting to see how Comrade Vince plays his keynote speech scheduled for immediately after the debate and vote.

Finally, there is a group of up and coming stars sashaying around the conference looking very well groomed and coiffured. These are the members of the “Leadership Programme”, twenty five or so carefully selected comrades who have been selected for special support and encouragement as part of a (Five Year?) plan to improve the diversity of the parliamentary party. All Liberal Democrat conference delegates are equal, but some are more equal than others, and I expect to see many of these comrades being called to speak in the conference hall over coming days.

Better be off now. Need to buy my copy of the Liberator Song Book for the Glee Club on Tuesday Night. Always good to be seen there joining in the hearty community singing with the beards and sandals brigade. Looking forward to a few choruses of my personal conference favourite, “Losing Deposits” (sung to the tune of Waltzing Matilda). Farewell, dear comrades.

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