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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunshine in Brighton

The sun is shining on the Liberal Democrats in Brighton as we prepare to embark on yet another frenetic week of politicking and carousing. Unfortunately, I have to travel back to Cardiff first thing on Tuesday morning so as to debate the very important topic of affordable housing in the Senedd Chamber. My share of the fun therefore will be limited to just two days.

Lots of speculation in the press about the future of Sir Menzies Campbell but a sense amongst representatives that this is yesterday's news. Ming himself makes it clear in an interview with the Observer that he intends to lead the Liberal Democrats into the next election and beyond and there is nobody here who will argue with him on that.

The party's organisation is in good shape, we have clear and radical policies to put to the electorate on freedom, the environment and social justice and we have a leader who, as Andrew Rawnsley describes it, is a civilised decent man with decades of experience and gravitas, an effective counterweight to the politics-lite approach of Cameron and capable of holding his own against the Prime Minister's own authority.

And so to Conference and what better way to enter the fray than in contemplation of the words of Jasper Gerard. Writing about the political conference season he says:

Daley Thompson called the decathlon the ultimate test of stamina.

Pah! He hasn't survived in the bar of Brighton's Grand until the cleaning lady comes round for her morning duties, knocking a hapless hack off the piano - or maybe he just falls, drunkenly, into a sleep.

For some, too, it's an excuse to stray: I still remember the look from Baroness Sear, then a doughty peer of advanced years, recounting how she had wandered into what she believed was her bedroom - to discover an orgy in full swing.

And as with the Olympics, some conference venues are harder pounding than others. Blackpool is our Seoul, a rebuke to our political elite that their vision of society bears no relation to the one they seek to govern.

I once requested the wine list in Blackpool's 'finest' eaterie, to be told 'the wine this week is red'.

As the marathon reaches its finish, what strikes you is how similar the conferences now are.

You won't find sandals at the Libs or pinstripes at the Tories or, indeed, socialists at Labour. So as you watch, remember that the political class, as Peter Oborne observes in his book Triumph of the Political Class, is a club.

The leadership of each party is united in loathing their activists.

It can make you wonder if the Tory-Labour election fight matters, because you'll end up with a bloke in a suit hogging the centre ground running the country.

Now where have I put those sandals?
There is a group within the party which is trying to keep Ming's age on the front pages. They are no doubt hoping to further the cause of a contender who probably fears being leapfrogged when Ming finally does retire. It doesn't matter to them that they are aiding the Tories who infest the media.

And it is the media, not the voters, who lust after young flesh. One feature of the Ealing Southall by-election which was unremarked at the time is that the three main candidates were ranked in order of age - the youngest and silliest last.

In these uncertain times, voters are most likely to trust experience and solidity over PR expertise.

- Frank Little
Maybe Adam Price thinks that Gordon Brown's Labour are bit low these days on orientation diversification and that the Party could do with a few of the gay Gordons to liven us all up. They make Welsh kilts now. How considerate of Mr Price.
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