In Glasgow, the second day of the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference is beginning.
In Glasgow, the second day of the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference is beginning. The conference, which started Saturday and continues until the 18th, however has two central points to address—how to fix the state of the party, as criticism is increased because of its policies within the coalition, and how to restore public trust ahead of the 2015 general election.
Questions on the state of the party
Tensions are still constant within the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg began the conference to explain the differences between the views of their party and that of the Tories and their leader, Prime Minister David Cameron, saying the Lib Dems were the only party to speak credibly on the issue of business and the economy. Additionally, Business Secretary Vince Cable has said there was constant tension over climate change, according to a report from the Press Association.
Leading up to the conference, the state of the party was facing many questions, when Sarah Teather, the MP for Brent Central, announced that she would not run in the next election, saying the party no longer fought for social justice and liberal views on immigration, according to an interview she gave with The Observer.
“It was the moment of realising that my own party was just as afraid of public opinion as the Labour party,” Teather told the Observer, noting the party’s decision to back a cap on benefits proposed by the government. “Something did break for me that was never ever repaired.”
The party was still facing significant criticism over its decision on tuition fees, when Clegg said they would not scrap them, breaking a part of the party’s manifesto. A poll in the Independent on Sunday said 54 per cent of members said the party should drop opposition to tuition fees, compared to 39 per cent who do not.
A new coalition with Labour
Indeed, as the conference ended its first day, there was talk of the future of the party beyond the next election. A poll released today of 500 Lib Dem councillors for the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme indicate that they would favour being in a coalition with Labour if the election results again produced a hung parliament, where no party could achieve a majority in the Commons.
The poll said that 38 per cent of councillors preferred Labour, while 16 per cent preferred partnering again with the Conservatives. 23 per cent however voted for neither party, according to a report from the BBC.
A separate poll on the subject of a coalition for the Independent on Sunday however found 39 per cent favoured a coalition with Labour, compared to 15 per cent who want to join with the Conservatives.
Acting in the national interest
Additionally, many in the party preferred Cable to take over from Clegg should he step down, with 77 per cent of party members saying Cable would be the perfect leader. The party president, Kevin Farron, came second with 68 per cent.
Yet, while there is some hesitation in partnering with the Conservatives again, former party leader Paddy Ashdown said the party should prepare for a second coalition with them. “I was wrong and Nick was right,” Ashdown told The Observer, referring to calls he made in the 2010 general election to not join the Conservatives in a coalition after a hung parliament was produced.
Ashdown added that the party had to act in the national interest. “It has held together better, better than we expected,” Ashdown said. “Both sides don’t like each other but they nevertheless trust each other. Could we have imagined a coalition with stinking, rotten, smelly, fought-them-all-my-life Tories? No. We don’t like them. But we had to do that.”
A different Liberal Democratic Party
Yet, a coalition could be possible with Labour, according to employment minister and MP for East Dunbartonshire Jo Swinson, though acknowledged there could be the same problems that occurred when working with the Conservatives. “Working in a mature and adult way where you recognise what your shared goal is – that is not something which I think would be particularly more difficult with Labour than it is with the Conservatives,” Swinson told the Independent on Sunday.
With the second day of the conference just beginning, there are still many unanswered questions on the future of the party. Perhaps by the end of the conference, there may be a clear signal looking to the 2015 election that would not only affect the party’s chances with the electorate, but the remaining time at the Commons prior to the election, which may put them at odds with the Conservatives on various policies.
We may see a different Liberal Democratic Party emerge by the 18th, still reeling from the tuition fees issue and policies in the coalition with the Conservatives.
Make or break for Clegg and the party
It may also force Clegg to take a different direction and distance himself from Cameron and the Conservatives and side with Labour and leader Ed Miliband, causing further tension within the coalition. We too may see a different Nick Clegg emerge, come the 18th.
This is a make or break moment for the party. For now, all we can do is wait, because Glasgow may change the Liberal Democrats as we know them, come Wednesday.