Conservative Diary

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Sometimes turning right, sometimes turning left and definitely turning nasty

Eric Pickles has just issued a statement describing the Liberal Democrat conference as "muddled".  That's very generous from the Tory Chairman.  It's been a pretty bad week for Britain's third party.

The party that has carefully presented itself as the reasonable party for many years became nasty. Saturday's attacks on David Cameron and George Osborne were just a curtain-raiser for Chris Huhne's portrayal of William Hague as a skinhead. Clegg was still in attack mode in his closing speech - a speech pushed down the running order on news bulletins by Obama's I-love-the-United-Nations speech.


Vince Cable's inflated reputation has also suffered a knock. His tax on high value properties won't help his party cling on to seats like Richmond-upon-Thames and Winchester. We also learnt that key members of Clegg's "shadow cabinet" (not that it is a real "shadow cabinet") weren't briefed on the policy. Don't they trust each other, these LibDems?

Clegg's authority took a number of hits. Former leader Charles Kennedy rebelled against the leader's desire to scrap the unaffordable policy of scrapping tuition fees and Steve Webb MP rebelled against the suggestion that child benefit might be means-tested.  There were murmurings throughout Conference at Nick Clegg's threat of "savage" cuts. Graeme Archer's verdict on Mr Clegg is worth republishing:

"Nick 'Savage Cuts' Clegg put on his ill-fitting guise of the Angry Young Man of British Politics, in a determined effort to sound stentorian. I imagine him lying in bed, in the early hours, gazing at the ceiling, and dreaming, in that between-sleep-and-wakefulness moment, of the conversations to be overheard at the Dog and Duck: That Nick Clegg! 'E tells it 'ow it is! I'm gonna vote for 'im! Perhaps he sees himself as Elizabeth I? Manning-up in order to deliver the message that his party - let alone the electorate - doesn't want to hear? We will savagely scrap our free tuition policy! he - well, not announced, more sort of tangentially 'let it be known' - only to retract the (non)commitment when the massed ranks of something called the Federal Policy Committee responded with that most lethal of Lib Dem weapons, a letter to the Guardian."


Danny Finkelstein is right in today's Times that the LibDems have a big opportunity in the next parliament. Any Tory government will be overseeing unpopular budget measures and Labour may be imploding. But the LibDems currently lack any strategic sense. Are they a left-wing party committed to taxing the rich and protecting public services or are they the party of "savage" cuts in public spending?  A survey of their activists suggests a big split on whether they should move leftwards or rightwards.  On Europe they remain a party out-of-sync with increasing Euroscepticism in many of their heartland areas, notably south west England.

In Brown and Clegg, Cameron is very lucky in the quality of his opponents.

Tim Montgomerie


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