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Lib Dem Conference Diary

Chris Huhne shuns his party's radical image but Vince Cable's "mansion tax" goes down well

The Liberal Democrats may cultivate an image as the most daring of the main parties, but it's not one that their home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, chose to live up to today. At a fringe meeting I chaired this afternoon on the police and public trust, Huhne confessed that he had little time for protest and that his last demo had been the rather tame Police Federation march over pay. Delegates nostalgic for the days when Charles Kennedy addressed anti-war marches were distinctly unimpressed.

Huhne did manage to make an early bid for the Guardian's vote at the next election. He urged delegates to shun papers such as the Sun and the Daily Mail, which lived off crime scare stories, in favour of the "honest" Guardian. No doubt Huhne, who penned an economics column for the paper before entering politics, was impressed by the rave review his former employers gave Nick Clegg today. But Huhne's colleague Vince Cable, who writes a column for the Mail on Sunday, is unlikely to share his disdain for Associated Newspapers.

All eyes were on Cable in the conference hall today as he unveiled the party's new "mansion tax" on properties over £1m. Lib Dem activists were satisfied that Saint Vince had demolished David Cameron's claim that there was barely a "cigarette paper" between them and the Conservatives. But Cable's attempt to sell the policy to a sceptical public wasn't helped by the Lib Dems' own Ed Davey, who in a TV interview was unable to say what the measure meant for the party's proposed local income tax.

Could the party that claims John Stuart Mill as an intellectual ancestor yet come to the defence of smokers' rights? A surprising number of delegates declared their support for the artist David Hockney's campaign to introduce smoking rooms in pubs and bars. One activist hoped that Charles Kennedy, who flouted the ban on a train in 2007, would reverse party policy on the subject in the comeback he refuses to rule out.

Quote of the Day: "Dirty, cheating bastards." Chris Davies MEP slams EU expenses abusers from the podium

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