Lib Dem Conference Review
Two days in and Liberal Democrat activists continue to bite back at a leadership which seems determined to embrace elements of commonsense within party policy.
- First the activists rejected the leadership's desire to cap the EU budget at 1% of national budgets, potentially allowing the European Union to consume even more of our funds should the Lib Dems ever get in to power.
- Secondly the activists tell Lib Dem DTI Spokesman Norman Lamb (the man who presumely would not have a job in a Lib Dem government as they want to scrap the Department) that his flagship policy of partially privatising the Royal Mail is not really their cup of tea.
The conference so far has been actually been quite exciting for an outsider looking in and it is not often you can say that about the Liberal Democrats.
For me I am happily enjoying the Lib Dems struggle with who they are, what they want to be and where they should go next. Charles Kennedy is as good as finished as an effective party leader in my eyes as he aimlessly floats along hoping his party's policy debates will somehow tell him what to believe.
The party does not know whether it should be left or right and has got itself in to a right old mess. Of course this is nothing unique - the Conservatives risk messing up themselves at their leaderless conference in two weeks time, but it is at least refreshing to see the Lib Dems squirm a little.
Of course we should not overplay the situation - we are still years from a General Election and the Lib Dems may well find their direction in time (I hope it remains left wing for the sake of the Conservatives) and what is more Kennedy does still have his admirers.
But what this situation does show is that the Liberal Democrats are not some sort of miracle political party which is constantly on the rise and where everyone gets on together. For the other political parties I think this is incredibly reassuring.
A party without an identity and without a direction comes unstuck sooner or later (see Conservative Party 1990 - present) and the Liberal Democrats are now beginning to realise I feel that being all things to all men cannot wash for ever.
Furthermore this situation offers the perfect background in which to finally start to undermine the Liberal Democrats, challenge their arguably superb local infrastructure and hopefully win back some lost voters at the next set of elections.
At the last general election the Conservatives were a lot better at dealing with the Lib Dem challenge than before, but there is still a long way to go. For me the approach has to be multi-latered, well planned and part of a long term effort.
We need to analyse and understand the strengths of Lib Dem political operations and copy those bits we like and undermine the rest. Most importantly we have to accept that in some cases the Lib Dems actually have some interesting policies we should take, shape and sell as our own - taking any political credit we can earn from them. Winning in politics is often about pragmatism remember and we should not be ashamed to treat the Lib Dems as a kind of pseudo think tank.
In such a vein I think the Conservatives should look at the Lib Dem Royal Mail proposals closely and look at any potential and most importantly I think they should seriously consider the School House system the Lib Dem activists actually did support today.
This could be the first stage in countering the Lib Dem Challenge...