1. The Lib Dems think they will be in power again after 2015
This whole conference was aimed at making that easy by encouraging activists to back grown-up policies rather than argue about goldfish. The Lib Dem leader placed great emphasis in his speech on his party’s ability to work with any party, arguing that it didn’t matter who he got on with better personally. As James writes, the Lib Dems had a good conference because they think there will be another hung parliament.
2. The Lib Dems believe in coalition more than they believe in anything else.
Clegg’s ‘this-is-who-I-am’ passages in his speech explained his frustration with two-party politics, not his convictions about the size of the state or anything specific. He wants to sell the Lib Dems not as the ‘party of work’ or the ‘party of the NHS’, or any other tag that Labour and the Tories might tussle over, but as the moderating force in government. There was a sense in his speech that he thinks his party can make any government better, like Lea & Perrins sauce is supposed to improve any dish. To that end, they seem to think that talking about all the times they’ve said ‘no’ is a good strategy
3. Vince Cable isn’t what he used to be.
Activists were hardly crying and stomping with gratitude when the Business Secretary delivered his speech this week. He’d already lost the economic argument in his party before turning up in Glasgow and having a sulky 12 hours where he refused to shut down speculation that he was deliberately snubbing the conference debate on the same subject. This means two things: one is that Clegg really needn’t worry about any leadership challenge from that quarter (and the DPM joked about that in his speech, mocking Lord Oakeshott for his party in plotting a Cable takeover). The second is that Cable’s attacks on government policies he dislikes, while not dissimilar to those launched by Clegg, lose force.
4. The Lib Dems have a complex view of what the state should do.
They might be keen to act as a moderating force first and a party of strong convictions second, but this lot showed that they have a wobbly wobbly view of what government should do, and what it is good to spend taxpayers’ money on. Free school meals is great politics, annoying Labour as it is a cost-of-living measure, and thrilling parents with children in infant school. But it also means rich families get an extra handout that they don’t need. Which is confusing, given the Lib Dems have argued so vociferously against the winter fuel payment. A very uncharitable reading of this would be that the Lib Dem view of the size of the state depends on the electoral benefit a policy might deliver.
5. The Lib Dems are moving to the right.
Clegg and co aren’t moving: they’re already on the right of their party. But this week, they have taken their party with them. And right-leaning or moderate activists are becoming more and more vocal.Tags: Lib Dem conference 2013, Liberal Democrats, UK politics