Should the Lib Dems battle to be distinctive?

On the ground at the Lib Dem party conference

Lots of meet and greet today, and excessive use of that classic conference greeting style of enthusiastic "Hellos!" to someone while looking over their shoulder. It's larger but feels much the same as last year, a family getting together for a special occasion.

There may well be a tiff by the time the main course is served and the great auntie (former leader) says a little too loudly that she never liked that new son-in-law Cameron, but there is no sign of it so far. Pity the broadcast media, who are being regularly asked by their newsrooms, "Have you found the anger yet?" knowing that if they say, "No sign of it so far" they will inevitably be knocked off evening bulletins and their weekend in Liverpool will be wasted.

The genuine signs of real debate are around the issue of whether or not to be distinctive. How much do we celebrate our separateness in government versus how much do we argue that this is a fully integrated team? Nick Clegg in the Independent today is clear:

It is not a game of parallel shopping lists. What is emerging is something much more interesting – a mix, a blend of things.

Contrast that with the calls by Liberator Magazine to the left and Mark Littlewood, their usual nemesis, so far to the right that he quit the party a while ago. Both argue that showing distinctiveness is critical. Reading the runes, it is possible to suggest that Vince Cable also agrees with that view.

So what is the correct answer? Celebrate the differences? Or talk about the team? I suspect that the Holy Grail of "being distinctive" at a national rather than local level is far less realisable than people think. In pure communications terms, it requires time and resources, which are in short supply.

If you are a special adviser spending all your time putting out the fires of distinctiveness, is that time that would be better spent on getting on with the governing? Perhaps this is something that comes at the end of a five-year term, not the beginning. In the bars of Liverpool tonight, this eclectic family will be getting together to solve this issue.

Olly Grender is a political consultant. She was director of communications for the Liberal Democrats between 1990 and 1995

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.