For the second year in a row, I am not attending Lib Dem conference. I went for ten years straight, but now, I both emotionally can’t face it and also, given the decline in the party’s fortune, I have no real professional reason to go (I’ll be at both Labour and Tory, if any of you reading we be at either or both). While I applaud Vince’s efforts to try and turn the ship around with his latest ideas about opening up the party, there was a vote that took place yesterday on the floor of conference which sums up why the party will continue to struggle for the foreseeable future.
Now, I’m about to get into something that many of you will roll your eyes about: votes at Lib Dem conference. I realise this bores the hell out of you, and with very good reason, but hear me out. The Lib Dems, for better or for worse, are the most actually democratic of parties. While Corbyn drones on about how the membership decide everything while avoiding votes on anything he might find tricky, Lib Dem policy is actually decided by the membership. Therefore, votes at Lib Dem conference give you a real insight into what is going on in the party at any given time. Unfortunately for the Lib Dems, it seems at present like a majority of the membership aren’t even actually liberal.
An amendment was put into a motion on what Lib Dem foreign policy should be yesterday. The fact that this had to be an amendment rather than in the original motion says a lot about the problems I’m discussing here, but here’s what it said:
“After 4. b) (line 87) insert:
c) Continuing to promote free trade across the world, in particular between developed and developing nations, recognising the benefits this brings to all nations involved.”
That is so unpunchy, you could probably get that passed at Labour conference this year, if you so desired. But at Lib Dem conference, the amendment failed to pass. By two votes, so it was razor thin, but there you have it: the Lib Dems don’t, as a party, think that free trade should be promoted, in particular between developed and developing nations. Okay.
More than ever, I am confused about what the Lib Dems are supposed to be there to stand for, apart from stopping Brexit, which several people are doing much more to help happen, including Boris Johnson and the ERG group for starters (albeit unintentionally, at least in regards to the latter mentioned there).
I took a look at the whole 2018 Lib Dem conference agenda, just to punish myself a little. The first item to be voted on this year was “Improving animal welfare”. Now, I have nothing against the cause of improving the lot of my fellow mammals, but when you look at the rest of the agenda and see absolutely nothing on housing, health, infrastructure, transportation, or indeed any public policy matter of any importance whatsoever bar Brexit, you have to wonder: what are the Lib Dems trying to achieve? I mean that seriously.
Put aside getting a second referendum, just for a second. The party has ruled out going into a coalition with either of the two main parties, making it largely irrelevant in parliamentary terms. You could throw this accusation at the Greens but in fact, the Greens make a lot more sense. They have acted as a sort of pressure group to pull Labour further leftwards, a plan that, given where Labour are now, has mostly paid off. If the Lib Dems exists to do nothing but act as a third string pressure group to get a second referendum on Brexit while doing a really bad impression of the Green Party, what is the point?
I, like so many people, wish the Lib Dems were good. We demand better but unfortunately do not get it. A Tory friend of mine recently said to me “I have soft spot still for what the Lib Dems could be, if only they would realise it”. I could only agree with her wholeheartedly.
One request: by all means, come after me on anything I’ve written above, but please, I beg you, do not reply with anything to do with dull, internal Lib Dem politics along the lines of “Well, Joe Righty put the motion down and we think he’s an Orange Book reading stinky, so that’s why we all voted against it”. Please.