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Time for the party to grow up…

By Angela Harbutt
August 1st, 2010 at 4:56 pm | 17 Comments | Posted in coalition, Liberal Democrats

Back in May, all Lib Dem MP’s (bar one abstention) voted in favour of a coalition with the Conservatives.  The Conservatives gave away a lot to the Lib Dem’s to secure the deal (Simon Hughes was quoted just this week saying that he and others could not believe just how much was being offered).

Part of the “quid pro quo” however was that the Lib Dems would accept Michael Gove’s plans for “free schools” – essentially allowing schools more independence from local councils and enabling parents to set up their own free schools. Something that a number of Tory councillors were none too happy with it should be said. 

At conference activists will however challenge the MP’s decision. A motion has been put forward that states (according to Newsnight as I have not seen conference papers as yet) “Local Authorities should retain strategic oversight of the provision of school places” and “continue to exercise their arms length support of state schools“. On free schools the motion calls on “all Liberal Democrats to urge people not to take up this option“.

Well we would have been living in la la land had we not expected some form of left wing gnashing of teeth at conference – and even more foolish to imagine that the Federal Conference Committee would not find a way to allow at least one motion to find its way onto the agenda.

Will there be a media scrum around it ? You betcha. Newsnight have already started – you can see it below – and it wont stop there. Will Liberal Vision find itself (again!) on the side of the leadership? (looks likely….. darn it!). Will the activists win? (Possibly). Will it make any difference to the short term? Unlikely. Even if the motion passes, frankly the Coalition deal out ranks a motion at conference – so it’s a gesture at best. Though one the Coalition can ill afford at such a tricky time in its life.

And how very Lib Dem to have a motion that calls on its members to “urge” others to do, or not do, something. Why we need to pass a motion in order to “urge” is a little beyond me. 

Does it highlight that it is time that the Lib Dems grew up? Definitely. The truth is that the media will portray us as a bunch of loons who prefer permanent opposition to power. And they might be right. About part of the party at least.

But surely it’s about time policies and motions are voted on by the WHOLE party (as I have argued before)…not just a tiny minority of members, with a score to settle, willing and able to make the journey to Beetle land. Come on Nick, Simon or whoever is in charge of the party right now – time bring the Lib Dems kicking and screaming into the 21st century – and get some real democracy (we are so keen to bang on about to others) into this party. Let people have their debate at conference by all means – then put it to the vote of all members. That way we can be sure our policies reflect those of the 60,000 not just the disgruntled few hundred.

In the mean time be prepared for a rocky ride and a media frenzy in Liverpool.

Oh…well said Julian Harris on Newsnight.

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