The Liberal Democrats' spring conference is upon us. I used to enjoy a party conference - ridiculous dreamers espousing ridiculous ideas made all the more ridiculous because they were good honest ideas that had no place in Government. Remember the 1p in the pound rise in income tax? Ditching the Lottery? Oh how we made them laugh.
Well the spring conference has ditched all the fun. Out go the beards and jeans, in come the I-Suits, rolling up their tailor made sleeves to fight the good fight against backsliders, waverers and, above all, rebels. The party that used to celebrate diversity and open discussion is in town to lecture and brow beat those still loyal to Liberal values and it's going to do it with a heady blend of truth and hyperbole. I'm guessing the slogan will be 'Despite the mess Labour left us in......'
Liberal Democrat News was full of 'Despite the mess Labour left us in...' stuff. Let me tell you now, because it will save all of us time, for every £300 coming in the nation spends £400. I'm not sure why, in a leaflet which talks about £150billion extra borrowing year on year, they've reduced it to hundreds - why not 3p and 4p? - but the message is clear, it was this way when we took over. Labour got rid of the boom and left us bust. Well true. But let's be old Liberal about this. Who created the boom? What created the boom? Who benefited from the boom? Is boom good?
The Labour party should never be forgiven until it apologises properly for it's pursuit of Tory policies to their logical conclusion. Says who? Well, apart from me, Tim Farron, that's who, the party President. In the best bit of LDN, Tim Farron rallies the troops with a very Liberal piece (once we get the \mess Labour left us with bit out of the way) about the cause of our woes. Tony Blair, he writes, came to power, not with a new plan for Government, but with a recycled version of Thatcherism. He goes on 'While the Tories may believe that the state is over bloated and must be cut back, we don't agree with them, we simply acknowledge that we can't afford current levels of expenditure'. Great stuff, honest, confrontational, a real taste of the unease felt by all but those at the top over the Coalition state of affairs. One can only assume he's trying to keep us sweet (see, now I'm a cynical member of a bulk standard political party).
Why can't we afford current national expenditure? Where is the economic debate, where is the social debate? I think Tim and his mates are going to get a bit of it this weekend and he should listen before he becomes President of nothing and no-one in particular. The Coalition has members voted for by the non right leaning voters of the UK. It also has right wing thinkers in positions of real power prepared to remove the remaining barriers to free market lunacy. The conference is where Tim Farron, Nick Clegg, Uncle Vince and Danny Boy will finally meet the people they're supposed to represent and, despite all the gagging techniques put on them, the rabble will have their say.
One of the points being discussed will be NHS reforms. Taking another piece in the LDN by smoothie Paul Burstow, Minister of State for Care Services, the NHS reforms are all good and he has no intention of addressing the points made by health professionals and instead cherry picks the statistics he likes to prove he's right. His attitude encapsulates my opposition to the Lib Dems involvement in the Coalition. His points are Tory points, Tory propaganda, Tory idealism. The views from the ordinary party members, many of them public servants, are ignored under the convenience of Coalition unity and 'the mess Labour left us'. The line that should frighten all of us, it scares me, is 'We believe decisions about your healthcare should be made by doctors'. The layers of deception in this simple statement are staggering. Being old Liberal again - They are now. The reforms change nothing. The System works well, the evidence is loaded (in fact much of the evidence is only there because the NHS is one of the few health systems to attempt 100% coverage, they're not allowed to exclude problems or ignore stakeholders). None of the reforms were in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto and none of the lies hastening the commercialisation of a battered NHS should be defended by Liberal Democrat MPs.
The attack on public services by the the Coalition will continue but this conference might give us an idea of whether the Coalition will. As Sheffield gears up for the show, lets hope the fight turns nasty. I'm not expecting much but in a week when Tottenham do better than Arsenal perhaps I can allow myself to believe in miracles.