Ming Campbell speaks to his conference today and is reportedly going to describe his "amazing" life story and his rise from a Glasgow tenement flat to leadership of the LibDems.
The LibDems are becoming more and more important in British politics because of the real possibility of a hung parliament after the next election. David Cameron has certainly been able to open up a lead over Labour but not yet a majority-winning lead.
Some Team Cameron strategists are single-minded in their determination to address the LibDem issue. They know that a Tory majority is difficult to achieve unless LibDem MPs in leafy southern seats are turfed out. Project Cameron’s emphasis on the environment and civil liberties and the reluctance to talk about tax, immigration and Europe could have been designed to (1) increase the possibility of a LibCon coalition after the next election and (2) to woo previous Tory voters who left the party because it was perceived as too right-wing.
A ConservativeHome poll of Tory members on attitudes to LibDem policies has already indicated that there is little shared ground between the two parties. In this morning’s Independent, columnist Steve Richards thinks it unlikely that the LibDems would want to partner with the Tories. Mr Richards believes that the Tories remain instinctively committed to lower taxation and Euroscepticism. The LibDems, in contrast, are instinctively redistributive and enthusiastic about European integration. This is what Mr Richards concludes after listening to Tuesday’s debate on tax:
"Mr Cameron need not bother making cups of tea for Sir Ming, if that is his objective. [A Con/Lib pact] will not happen. Anyone who listened to the Liberal Democrats’ debate on tax policies on Tuesday would recognise this is a left-of-centre party, gripped by the need to redistribute widely, and to raise cash for some expensive spending commitments, such as the abolition of top-up fees for students. Those speaking in favour of the new economic package argued passionately that the proposals redistributed more extensively than the party’s previous policies. Opponents of the proposals protested that there was a need to redistribute more widely still, and to raise additional money for the party’s spending commitments."
If tax and Europe are big enough barriers to a Libservative pact the other big boulder is PR. Simon Hughes has said that electoral reform is the bottom line for any deal.
Steve Richards does not believe that a LibLab pact is particularly likely either. Labour would have lost their majority if a hung parliament arose and English voters would resent a Scottish Liberal Democrat propping up a rejected Scottish Labour Prime Minister (assuming Brown succeeds Tony Blair). Mr Richards does not believe that a hung parliament is likely. Given the number of LibDem MPs and the way they bed themselves into seats, I’m not so sure. Where I do agree with him is the unlikelihood of all but a few Orange Book LibDems propping up a Cameron-led minority administration. I still think our best strategy for Government is fierce campaigning against the LibDems and the simple message… Vote Tory to Get Rid Of Labour.