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16 September 2007

Go on Ming pick a fight!

The Lib Dem frontbencher dismisses talk of a coup against Sir Menzies Campbell insisting there are n

By Lembit Opik

It’s THAT time of year again. I attend Lib Dem conference with dread and anticipation. Dread because it’s a physical and mental marathon to just stick with the conference programme. Anticipation, because it’s my first time at conference as Business and Enterprise Shadow Minister. They’ll want to know what I think about business.

Well, they WILL get to know what I think about business, in very specific terms. For example, a Zero Carbon Britain when it comes to energy generation makes a lot of sense and does get people talking. I think it IS possible – but more about all that at the fringes I’m doing. To his great credit, Ming’s been running with this idea as well now, as has Chris Huhne, so we’ve opened up a rather useful front which has surely got to mean we’re doing more than just talking about it. But the main thing is it’s a real policy, and people can either agree or disagree but they can’t pretend it doesn’t exist as a proposition. By contrast, I sometimes feel we squander conference by being terribly cautious about everything, as if direct and even contentious comments are dangerous. Actually, if we can’t even be honest and challenging with each other, then what exactly are we doing here? So, I’m personally hoping delegates will genuinely have a bit of fire in their belly. We’re meant to be the radical alternative for goodness sake!

I think the other thing about conference this year is all the General Election jitters which affects delegates like loud bangs affect flocks of birds. So we’re all looking at the scarecrow in the middle of the field and waiting to see if he’s going to dissolve Parliament and go to the country. Personally, I think October’s a non-runner for the election date. But some would say if this is my prediction, it’ll definitely happen in October. Anyway, I expect symptoms of early Election Fever will be evident, not least amongst the press who will doubtless prefer to publish long, vapid predictions of possible election outcomes in preference to writing about what’s actually going on at conference. The attitude towards conference blogs like this one is a case in point. The chances of anything positive being reported from it are vanishingly small, but if I launch a personal attack on someone that would make the front page. But that’s not going to happen. Because we’re Liberal Democrats and we like each other. A lot. Funnily enough, this is actually true, I’d say.

There’s also the usual stuff about the Leadership – essential pub chat without which it just wouldn’t be the same. But it’s not a terribly interesting story because there’s no serious challenge to Ming’s leadership. Besides, it’s the Leader’s duty to put up with a certain amount of whinging. It’s partly what he’s for. So the delegates can go home at the end feeling satisfied that “we told him etc.” Free speech is a wonderful thing when you’re not its primary target. I think now John Prescott’s exiting stage left, Ming should consider picking a fight with a particularly annoying delegate and get a reputation as the New Hard Man of British Politics. It would certainly get the headlines.

So, who knows what delights await in the halls and convention centres of Brighton. And, OK, despite the pathos I am looking forward to it. It’s, well, fun. Is that still allowed? Or is “fun” not a political enough description? Don’t care. The day conference stops being fun is the day we’ve either solved all the problems of the country, or we’ve given up. Lib Dems NEVER seem to give up. So here’s to the problems which give us something to talk about, and for having the idealism to try and fix them, here’s three cheers for us!

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