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21 September 2011

Lib Dem conference lookahead | Wednesday 21 September

The who, when and where of the Lib Dem conference.

By James Maxwell

Look out for

Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will deliver his keynote speech at 15:00. Following the party’s disastrous local and national election results in May, coupled with the loss of the referendum on voting reform, Clegg is under a huge amount of pressure to justify his decision to enter into coalition government with the Conservatives. His aim will be to cast the Liberal Democrat ministerial team as a progressive, moderating influence on the excesses of the Tory right. On cue, he is expected to announce a £50m investment in summer classes for children in need of support in the run up to secondary school. In deliberate contrast to some of his more reactionary cabinet colleagues, he will also look to strike a measured and empathetic tone on the riots, with references to young people who have “fallen through the cracks” and have “nothing to lose.”

Clegg will refer to another potentially controversial issue: the 50p top rate of tax. With the Treasury – and some high-profile Orange Book liberals – agitating for its abolition, the Deputy PM has an opportunity to rebuild his left-of-centre credentials by making clear his opposition to a reduced levy. Instead, he is expected to say that, were it to be scrapped, it should be replaced with new property or land taxes.

Finally, Clegg will launch a defence of radical austerity as a means to ensure the long-term stability of the UK economy. In light of the IMF’s warning yesterday that Britain faces a 17 per cent chance of slipping back into recession, he will insist that cutting the structural deficit is matter of fiscal necessity rather than political choice.

Signs of trouble?

Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore will address conference delegates at 10:15. Moore has faced criticism for his failure to land any blows on Alex Salmond and the SNP, who are currently soaring in polls north of the border. His muddled interventions in the debate surrounding the forthcoming independence referendum have made it difficult for Willie Rennie, the new the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, to establish himself as a distinctive personality in Scottish politics.

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Conference timetable

9.30: Debate on the Arab Spring
10.15: Speech by Scottish Secretary Michael Moore
10.35: Q&A on foreign policy
11.20: Speech by Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
11.40: Debate on NHS reforms
15.00: Speech by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
16:00: Conference closes