Saturday, 26 June 2010

Cameron at conference - a step too far

It's being reported this morning that there are plans for David Cameron to come to Lib Dem Conference and Nick Clegg to go to the Tory event.

Hopefully this is a piece of misreporting.

I fully accept that there are some good things coming out of the Coalition agreement. The abolition of ID cards and roll back of the database state are two examples and are both things Lib Dems have campaigned for.

I also have very real concerns about some of the other decisions being made and am working with others on lobbying within the party on some of this.

Obviously now that we are a partner in Government, things are slightly different and it would be stupid to ignore the changed circumstances.

But whoever thinks it would be a good idea to have David Cameron at Lib Dem party conference is making a big misjudgement.

Lib Dem conference does not belong to the Government. It belongs to the party and is very much owned by members. The fact that our conference actually makes decisions for the party is significant.

Party conference isn't , and certainly shouldn't become, a sales conference. It also isn't an extended TV ad (although I am fully aware we need to think about how we present ourselves)

For activists conference is a big deal. It's not a particularly cheap thing to take part in and if you are travelling and taking time off work it is quite a commitment. Conference is important and many of us put effort into motions and amendments and fringe meetings and the like.

We are at the stage now where we need to use our conference to properly debate and assert our identity and Liberal policies. The inclusion of a David Cameron speech, or visit (which would obviously be very high profile) in this event would blur the boundaries in a really unhelpful way.

That's not to say we should never have speakers or visitors from other parties. We've had people from Northern Irish political parties in the past. I remember Ken Livingstone speaking at a transport fringe meeting. Even Boris Johnson has been there. But there is a big difference between a fringe meeting or a sort of information presentation and an address or organised visit by the Prime Minister.

It may of course be that today's reporting is wrong. Or it may be that this is the the deliberate floating of an idea to see what member reaction would be (although quite frankly phoning round constituency chairs would be an easier way to achieve this)

If the reporting is accurate however, I very much hope Conference Committee will think again.

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