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Bruised and Battered Liberal Democrats Gather for Their Annual Party Conference

Posted on the 24 September 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Bruised and battered Liberal Democrats gather for their annual party conference Nick Clegg. Photo credit: Cabinet Office

The background

The Liberal Democrats annual conference is underway in Brighton. The conference kicked off with the leader Nick Clegg’s 23 September Q&A session. The under-fire party are behind Ukip in the latest poll and there are some rumours that Clegg could soon face a challenge to his leadership if things don’t pick up for the Tories’ Coalition Government partners.

Clegg is living in fantasyland

“The party sees itself as ready to squeeze the rich and green the nation, but it’s part of a rightwing, Tory-led regime,” reminded Jackie Ashley of The Guardian, who described the Lib Dems’ gathering as a “fantasy conference.” “What’s happening in Brighton is clear enough,” said Ashley. ”The Lib Dems think of themselves as essentially a centre-left party, and are wallowing in the fantasy of presenting themselves as progressive politicians … The trouble is, in a few days’ time, they make the short journey back north to Westminster – where they return to a centre-right government run by people who share none of these views.” Ashley reported that Clegg’s position is not safe. She said “the plotting is real enough … Usually, we’re told that conference plots are fantasies, and we should concentrate on the policies. Well, this time round, it’s the other way about. The new policy positions are airy dreams, but the skullduggery is both real and becoming a more practical proposition with every opinion poll,” concluded Ashley.

Clegg’s still a class act

Matthew Engel of The Financial Times assessed Clegg’s chances of a comeback and concluded that, while he isn’t as unpopular as some would make out, he’s unlikely to ever again enjoy Cleggmania. Engel reminded that the Liberal Democrats are behind Ukip in the latest poll, “probably running neck and neck with G4S, who are doing the security here, and the next flu outbreak,” but reported that the “atmosphere round the (conference) hall seemed phlegmatic rather than conspiratorial: the Lib Dems like their leader, even if they don’t exactly trust him, still less have any faith in his ability to save their seats. There were not that many people around to plot against him.” Engel praised Clegg’s performance and said he handled questions “with skill and, within the limits imposed by his profession, honesty … Somehow this conference has got to maunder on till Wednesday and the leader’s speech which, on the evidence of his four previous outings, is bound to be a dud. But when this leader speaks for a minute, not an hour, with the mike in his hand not on the lectern, with no tie and no script, he is a class act.”

Two-faced Lib Dems need to grow up

“It is the hoariest of insults to call a politician ‘two-faced’, yet when it comes to the Liberal Democrats – and their leader – the description is precisely accurate,” slammed The Telegraph, in an editorial, which basically called on the Lib Dems to grow up: “Clegg and his team appear torn between government and opposition, between pragmatism and populism – and ultimately, arguably, between maturity and immaturity.”

The right-wing newspaper urged Clegg to end his “deeply dispiriting” calls for more taxation of the rich: “As Mr Clegg should know, raising taxes on any sector of society will scarcely promote growth. Nor will embracing rhetoric that tells investors and wealth-creators that their presence and activities are unwelcome. The best way to help rich and poor alike is to shrink the state, reduce the burden of government and promote entrepreneurship with all due zeal. Instead, we have the spectacle of a party – and hence a Government – that castigates the wealthy even as it urges them to spur on recovery. This Jekyll and Hyde act might appeal to the party base, but it is doing the country real damage.”

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