What to expect on Wednesday at the Liberal Democrat party conference

September 18, 2013 9:30 am

It’s the last day of the Lib Dem Conference and the speeches will be catching the most attention today. First, we’ve got the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, up on the podium on the day that marks one year until the referendum on Scottish independence. As the Telegraph notes in their top 50 most influential Lib Dems, while he is not the most charismatic of politicians, he is a safe pair of hands who won many plaudits for how he negotiated the terms of the referendum. With much media attention for the referendum today, Mr Moore’s speech will help set the tone of the Better Together campaign’s message for the next year.

Before the Conference ends with the Leader’s Speech, there are a number of civil liberties and human rights issues on the agenda. London MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford will move a motion deploring the detention of David Miranda last month under the Terrorism Act and will call for reforms to strengthen the rights of the individual to legal representation and to abolish the requirement to answer questions. This is followed later in the morning by a motion supporting the Human Rights Act (HRA), noting the British origins of the European Convention of Human Rights on which it is based, while calling for reform to prevent the Act being used as a delaying tactic. For many Liberal Democrats this will be an important show of distance from the Conservatives, whose staunch opposition to the HRA is noted in the motion.

The policy motion on the manifesto theme gives a strong sense of direction for Nick Clegg’s speech. The motion sets out the party’s main message from now until the 2015 general election: a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life. It is about positioning the party equidistantly from Labour and the Conservatives. In the lines that were briefed in the papers this morning, Nick Clegg gives us a hint of that message in practice. He will argue that the Lib Dems are needed in government to moderate the Conservatives to ensure they govern fairly and to prevent Labour from wrecking the economy as they did in the lead-up to the financial crisis.

While people may disagree with this, commentators have been pointing out that this is not an unfamiliar message. It is very similar to Tony Blair’s promise to voters in the run up to the 1997 election. In other words, it has the appeal in principle to a broad section of the population. The time until the general election will now be used to prove to the public that the Lib Dems can deliver this. In that context, party officials have been briefing out that the plan to give every child at infant school in England free school lunches was a trade-off with the Conservative married couples tax allowance. The aim is to show the goings-on behind the scenes and how the Lib Dems are making true to their promise to ensure the Conservatives govern fairly.

Once we hear Nick Clegg’s speech in full, we will have a clearer idea of how far that message will go at this stage and what we can expect in the next few months from his party.

Henk van Klaveren

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