PLMR AT THE LIBERAL DEMOCRAT CONFERENCE: A PARTY PUNCHING ABOVE ITS WEIGHT?

Will Davies

If anyone needed an indication of just how radically life has changed for the Liberal Democrats they need only look at the police barricades and airport style security surrounding the party’s conference in Birmingham this year.

The past 15 months have seen the Lib Dems thrust into an utterly alien world experiencing a level of scrutiny and opprobrium beyond anything that had gone before.

Walking around it’s clear that the Party is trying to instil a sense of pride in its members. But this has been a horrible year for the Lib Dems. The AV referendum was an unmitigated disaster and local council elections left some activists fearing for the very future of Liberal politics and many others calling for Nick Clegg and co to cut their losses and wave goodbye to the coalition.

However, if we look at the facts relating to the Coalition Government,  haven’t the Lib Dems reason to be proud of their role?  President Tim Farron stated in his speech that he has never been more proud of his party than he is now.  More than 90,000 of the country’s poorest people taken out of tax, the pupil premium helping children in disadvantaged areas up and down the country to receive a decent education: these are just two of the initiatives that Liberal Democrats have spearheaded in Government.

On Saturday, speaking to a packed hall Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg declared that the Liberal Democrats were “punching above their weight” in the coalition; that Liberal Democrat Ministers were working hard to ensure that Liberal policies are being implemented.

Elsewhere, Care Services Minster Paul Burstow called on delegates to hold his and the government’s feet to the fire in order to ensure that Liberal Democrat ideals are upheld at the highest level.

Yes there is still unease amongst the grass roots about being in bed with the Conservatives, but at Ministerial level there seems a steely determination to make it work; that at a time of crisis a coalition of political opposites is the best way to make things better.

Just take the opening words of Business Secretary Vince Cable’s speech to conference today:

“These are dangerous times for our economy. There is much uncertainty. But I am absolutely certain that, at such a moment, the country is stronger for having two parties in coalition working in the national interest.”

The standing ovation suggested he had the support of the hall. Nevertheless, Cable and his colleagues have a lot of work to do to convince the rest of the UK.

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