It’s the final day of the Liberal Democrat conference, and
so the final day of our intermittent live blog totting up all the anti-Tory
positioning going on. And, in terms of rhetoric, it’s probably the quietest day
so far: the overriding theme of Nick Clegg’s forthcoming speech is that the Lib
Dems are now a “party of government”, and so his colleagues are on best
behaviour this morning. Even Simon Hughes has been talking about the need for a
decade of austerity.
But that isn’t to say that, in terms of substance, the
Liberal Democrats have refrained from causing trouble for the Tories. In fact, they
have passed two particular conference motions dismissing government plans. The
first came last night, when they voted against the Justice
and Security Bill, and particularly its proposals around “secret justice”
courts. The second was this morning, with a resounding vote
against Eric Pickles’ proposal to relax the planning laws around house
extensions (the prospect of which Harry wrote about here).
The Lib Dem councillor Chris White took the opportunity to swipe at Mr
Pickles, as the BBC reports:
White, from St Albans, has delivered a stinging rebuke to Communities Secretary
Eric Pickles, the minister responsible for the reforms. Mr Pickles harbours a ‘shoot-from-the-hip,
issue-a-press-release-for-the-Sunday-papers attitude’, Mr White says. 'It
is time to say enough is enough, let's try to get it right.'"
None of this is necessarily fatal to the government’s plans
—people about the Lib Dem leadership are talking about these votes being
advisory, rather than binding — but, at the very least, they increase the
headwinds that Mr Clegg, and the Coalition, are operating against.
It's that man Ed Davey, again, with more jibes at the Tory party. At a fringe event this afternoon, he is reported to have said:
"[The Conservatives] do have authoritarian tendencies. I find that very, very difficult and their very negative approach to how to deal with people who are less well-off in society, those who fall on hard times, people who break the law. We have to have a more optimistic outlook on humanity and I think it's quite difficult as a liberal in the Tory party to have that, given the views of some of their colleagues."
And that came after he reheated one of his themes from the weekend, saying — in reference to climate change — that "I don't believe the noises off that we hear from Conservative backbenchers should be listened to." With reports in today's papers that Mr Davey blocked John Hayes from taking responsibility for the Government's renewable energy strategy, it seems that the Lib Dem minister isn't too concerned about ruffling Tory feathers.
Elsewhere, the Lib Dem MEP Sharon Bowles repeated Mr Davey's "Tea Party Tories" line, not once…
"Negotiations [about a European banking union] are extremely sensitive, and yes with moments to be tough, but the last thing that the UK needs is constant bellowing about repatriation of powers and wanton vetoes from the Tea Party Tories or silly part of the City."
"Ukip and Tea Party Tories live in some 1930s fantasy of imperial power, even though we are a lot closer to 2030!"
…which suggests that this is one the Lib Dems want to make stick.
And Lynne Featherstone insisted that her party are the "good guys" in government:
"The Liberal Democrats are already the good guys; we’ve raised the tax threshold taking the lowest paid two million out of tax altogether, put £550 backs in the middle income [earners], who are on the basic tax rates…"
Which leaves Danny Alexander, the main speaker of the day. He was, unsurprisingly, a bit more decourous than some of his colleagues — but even he managed to get the occasional jab in. Discussing a programme to close tax loopholes, he delivered a compliment that was more backhanded than anything else: "To their credit, even most Conservatives now agree with that too." Thanks, Danny.
Vince Cable joins the effort to paint the Tories as the extremists and the Liberal Democrats as the nice guys of the Coalition. The Evening Standard reports how he suggests that Tories are turned on by firing people. “We have," says the Business Secretary, "seen off the ‘head bangers’ who want a hire and fire culture and seem to find sacking people an aphrodisiac.”
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
Lord Oakeshott, a fervent anti-Tory, said this today:
"We Liberal Democrats have had to choke down whole humble pies on tuition fees, the NHS and welfare for the Coalition, now it is the Tories' turn to swallow a slice on the mansion tax."
Lord Oakeshott is also a close ally of Vince Cable. He also had this very intruiging hint at Nick Clegg's leadership future:
"The party will decide, on the evidence nearer the time, who is the best leader to get the -best result for us next time."
There are "a lot of disagreements" between him and George Osborne at the Treasury, Danny Alexander tells a fringe event at #ldconf
— politicshomeuk (@politicshomeuk) September 23, 2012
4.30pm: Some more highlights from today.
Ed Davey (who is rumoured to be interested in his party's leadership if this morning's newspapers are to be believed)'s speech contained this rather forced anti-Tory remark:
"Conference – our Coalition agreement to clear up Britain’s mess, wasn’t an agreement to turn the clock back. For business as usual. To rekindle Thatcherism – or Blair-Brown. It was for a fairer, greener Britain – and we must fight for that."
Julian Huppert MP rejected the Conservatives' envinromentally friendly record, saying:
"The Liberal Democrats are the only party who have shown an unwavering commitment to our environment, and to local residents. Today, we have reaffirmed those commitments, and set out a sustainable path for future air travel."
At a fringe meeting featuring Sir Menzies Campbell, Jo Swinson MP and the Labour parliamentarians Lord Adonis and Jon Cruddas MP, the following took place:
Murmurs of dissent as Ming says "All LDs basically of the left, our enemies are always Tories." Jo Swinson earns applause for disputing it.
— Stephen Tall (@stephentall) September 23, 2012
- "Be proud of what Chris Huhne and Ed Davey have achieved at Energy and Climate Change but do not be complacent in the face of Tory climate change deniers."
- "You remember the Tory slogan: vote blue go green? So Dave, how’s that going?"
- "They should take that little squiggly tree that they have for a logo and replace it with a 747."
- "For the next two and a half years, Britain is a two party system, and we are one of them."
- "Like us the Conservatives also want economic recovery. But they don’t care about a fairer and more equal society, or a green economy."
Vince Cable, in his speech to conference, rejected regional pay (an idea seemingly favoured by the blue half of the Treasury) as "probably terrible economics":
"That is completely unacceptable and it's probably terrible economics as well because these regions are very broad brush and you get booming areas of Yorkshire like York and Harrogate and others that are terribly depressed and you have to take account of local variation."
He also attacked the Conservative policy of reducing the number of immigrants coming to Britain:
"The awkward problem is that the other side of the Coalition, as you know, have got this aspiration as they put it, to reduce the number of immigrants, or net immigration to below 100,000 – that's not coalition policy. That's their party policy, but the two things tend to get brought together in the media and so they have a very hawkish approach to this whole issue."
Evan Harris, the far-left former Lib Dem MP who, while not as influential as he used to be, still sits on the party's "Federal Policy Committee", appeared on the Sunday Politics show, saying Lib Dems would run on the mansion tax in 2015. Dr Harris said he disagreed with the decision to cut the 50p tax rate, and also said:
"We will not accept, and Nick Clegg has made this clear, that there will be any more demands on the poorest people in society, including the working poor, who get benefits, unless the wealthy pay their fair share."
Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, appeared on television this morning, and blamed "Tea Party" Tories for blocking green growth – an argument Danny Alexander made on Friday. He said:
"So what I’m really surprised at with these Conservative critics is they’re getting in the way of growth for our economy, and getting in the way of green growth. And I think that is really bad news for people around the country who will want to see the Government making sure they’ve got a prosperous future with well-paid jobs for their families."