Traditionally the fact that the Liberal Democrats hold their conference first and still vote on party policy at it has been regarded as a disadvantage. But this year, I suspect that these two things will be in their favour.
By going first, they will get to set the terms of debate for conference season. They’ll be able to spike their coalition partners’ guns on a whole variety of post-riots issues. They can make clear that they won’t accept any changes to the human rights act or any government push to encourage marriage. Even better, they can pass motions to this effect. They also will have first crack at setting out on what terms the 50p rate can be ended. For example, they could make clear that they would accept it going in exchange for some sort of ‘land tax’, an idea floated in The Sunday Times today.
This Lib Dem first-mover advantage will cause headaches for their coalition partners. First, any Tory minister who announces, for instance, that they’ll deal with the human rights culture will instantly be asked how they are going to make this happen given the Lib Dem position. Second, the Tories will have to spend a considerable chunk of their pre-conference media rounds setting out their responses to the policies that the Lib Dems have suggested which will eat into the time available to them to promote their own ideas.