I have just watched Cambridge Liberal Democrat Councillor Julie Smith’s few seconds on the stage at the Liberal Democrat party conference.
Only at a Liberal Democrat conference could someone give such a muddled and internally inconsistent speech and receive rapturous applause.
Cllr Smith told the conference that she is a member of the party’s “Federal Policy Committee”. According to the party’s webpage on the committee it is the group which develops new policy proposals for approval by the party’s conferences. She expressed her frustration that despite her committee having clear policies which they were putting to the conference the media is reporting that the Liberal Democrats do not have consistent views on subjects such as tuition fees. Coverage has focused quite heavily on reporting that Nick Clegg has weakened the party’s stance on opposing university tuition fees. Cllr Smith said:
“What the media do pick up on is where we are divided”
Personally I think that is the role of the media; and with the Liberal Democrats they have a particularly easy job as the party is so inherently divided. Party members hold a wide range dramatically differing and often conflicting views. When watching or reading reports of a conference I would have thought people would expect there to be debates to be reported on, and for different views to be heard. Cllr Smith appeared to be promoting greater control, more stage management and spin – things which I believe have been detrimental to the public view of politicians in the UK. Cllr Smith urged her Liberal Democrat party colleagues to toe the party line: “so the media here are speaking with one voice and one voice only”. As everything gets applauded at party conferences perhaps too much should not be read into the apparent degree of support for Cllr Smith in the hall, but her view did appear to have significant support.
Speaking about the party leader Nick Clegg she said: “we might like him to give policy, but tomorrow is the leader’s speech”. This appeared to contradict her previous statements. How can she be both be supporting the leader “giving policy” on one hand and on the other be saying policies ought arise from the party. How can policies arise from the party if she is urging the conference to speak with one voice instead of having a debate?
Cllr Smith had been speaking on a motion which the BBC summarised as saying: “the economy is in a mess and the political system is rotten”; this was passed overwhelmingly by the conference.