Andrew Neil thrust rosettes emblazoned with ‘CONDEM’ in Lib Dem members’ puzzled faces, attempting to stir things up. Nobody obliged to wear one, instead placidly informing him that they would, if only it were DemCon. These endeavours were a recurring theme during the press coverage of the Liberal Democrat conference.
After 60 years out of government, presumably most Lib Dems were having the most astonishing conference of their careers yet. Neil affirmed that one never had to queue for drinks before, and declared that “there are 60% more journalists than last year”.
Many have professed that the conferences not only differed in popularity, but also the attire worn (woolly hats and sandals being commonplace). Furthermore, attitudes have become more mainstream; Michael White, an assistant editor of the Guardian, wrote that “in the 90s Paddy Ashdown suffered a conference where activists flirted with abolition of the monarchy and legalisation of cannabis”.
Vince Cable arguably stole the show, as even the Liberal Democrat leader was largely ignored. There was a notable absence of controversy, or anything happening at all in fact. Consequently, the only story really afloat was the Business Secretary’s speech, as the BBC asked ”Is Vince Cable the new Karl Marx?”. (In retrospect, this was an estimable warm-up for Red Ed’s forthcoming success.) The Torygraph – sorry, the Telegraph – lead with “Cable turns his guns on home owners”, and the Mail later reported that it was an “anti-capitalist attack”. ‘Mountains’ and ‘molehills’ are two words that come to mind. ‘Bankers are erm.. really bad… and not nice, oh and greedy..’ is essentially what Cable shockingly divulged (admittedly, I am paraphrasing).
Nick Clegg spouted the usual rhetoric: “We haven’t changed”, the coalition has “become more than the sum of our parts” and “Stick with us and together we will change Britain for good”. “Just imagine how different our country will be” he encouraged, as some said he was a dreamer, although were assured he was not the only one. All the speeches were engineered not to provoke any emotions (or polemics), apart from Cable’s. His produced a small rumble, something for the media to chew on, but nothing substantial.
In this sense, the Lib Dems would certainly have called it a good conference. Journalists may have divaricated here, due to its lack of scandal. Perhaps it was too good.