Conservative Diary

« Twelve of the new intake are standing for the Executive of the 1922 Committee | Main | David Cameron reassures party members that the Coalition's agenda is about devolving power, trusting people and saving money »

Nick Clegg should speak to the Conservative Party Conference this autumn...and we must get to know the Liberal Democrats better

Picture 26 David Cameron and Nick Clegg sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the Government front bench for the Queen's Speech.  Last week, they did so for the first time during the election of the Speaker.  Where this Government's concerned, we Conservatives are going to have to get used to new ways of doing things.

Should they include the Deputy Prime Minister formally addressing our Party Conference this autumn? And the Prime Minister speaking in the same way to the annual Liberal Democrat Conference?  I believe so.

Not because I'm gagging to consume a feast of oratory cooked up by Nick Clegg.  Nor because I wish David Cameron the joy of closer acquaintance with the Liberal Democrats' more exotic activists.  But because - whether we like it or not - we have to recognise that the Coalition's happening, that the Conservative Party should therefore try to make it work, and that at the very least we should show an interest in what our partners have to say about our common Government programme.

So I'd like to see the Deputy Prime Minister get a decent slot in our Party Conference programme.  But that should be only the start of more co-operation, not the end.  We have to get used to having Liberal Democrats about the Conservative home (as well as ConservativeHome).

It's a bit like one's daughter turning up with a slightly dodgy boyfriend.  He may not be around for long. One hopes that he'll mind his manners while he is.  But one must be as welcoming as possible, open that nice bottle which has kept back for a special occasion, try to be convivial and hope that, later in the evening, not too many strange noises emanate from the spare bedroom.

After all, he's probably going to be around for a bit.  And who knows, you might actually hit it off.  OK, so he has some weird views on nuclear power and proportional representation.  But he's actually got some bright ideas about cutting tax for poorer workers, scrapping the Child Trust Fund entirely, and reducing some winter fuel payments.

And I think that you'll see eye-to-eye on scrapping ID cards, giving schools more freedom, abolishing Regional Development Agencies, and linking the state pension to earnings.  By the way, have you met his friend David Laws?  He seems to be more conservative than most Conservatives.

Roy Jenkins once recommended that the old Liberal Party and the SDP - remember them? - should show love for each other.  I'm not recommending that exactly (at least not yet).  There's no need to get to know many Liberal Democrats intimately.  But we should get to know more Liberal Democrats much better.

Danny Finkelstein, who came to the Conservative Party through the SDP, wrote a shrewd piece recently pointing out that while Labour-Liberal Democrat links are strong, Conservative-Liberal Democrat links scarcely exist.  You can read it here.

As he said, this needs to change, and fast.  So bring on more drinks in the same bars, more meals together, more informal groups to knock around ideas, plenty of seminars, a few fresh publications, lots of new blogs, a new Coalition-leaning think tank or two - and perhaps, heaven help us, even a cross-Party dining club in Parliament.

At the end of all this, I realise that you still think that your daughter's been hard done by.  I understand. It's natural.  But remember: the Liberal Democrats feel the same way. For them, it's as though their son's rolled up home with this rather hoity-toity new girlfriend...

Paul Goodman


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.