Friday, 25 June 2010

Why David Cameron should not address Lib Dem conference - UPDATED

Today's Independent has an article about plans by the coalition government to 'cement the relationship'. One of the ideas is to have ministers from each party speak at the conference of the other.

I have no intrinsic problem about this. After all, we have seen some Labour and Conservative speakers at the Lib Dem conference before. But such a move by the coalition could be a risky manoeuvre.

Should David Cameron speak at Lib Dem conference? Apart from the nightmare that this would bring in terms of increased security (I suspect the Lib Dem conference is already on course for significant changes in this respect), the danger is that this single event would dominate the whole of the event. A figure such as the Prime Minister could not be shuffled off to a fringe event and would therefore have to speak on the main stage. It couldn't be on either of the last two days - Nick Clegg would end up as a side show - and it couldn't be at the Rally - which should always be a tribal Lib Dem event.

For the Lib Dems, what is there to gain? A hostile reception for Cameron would set the media agenda against Nick Clegg. An overly positive welcome would do even more to blur the distinction between the parties in the minds of voters.

In short, however much Cameron is a positive influence on the coalition - he clearly gets the need for the Lib Dems in a way that many of his Tory colleagues do not - he is still a massively divisive figure within the Lib Dems. Having Cameron at the Lib Dem conference would necessitate a heavy handed control of the conference just at the time that many activists need a bit of stroking.

Not a lot of this applies to most of the rest of the Tory frontbench however. Michael Gove came to the councillors conference last week and got a good reception. He may be a bit of a right-winger, but he is intelligent enough to stick to his brief, not say the wrong thing and to accept that he is on (potentially) hostile ground. William Hague would probably get away with it too (2001 General Election notwithstanding).

On the other hand, I'm sure that George Osborne would be a total disaster. Unfair it might be, but the Lib Dem view of him is of a career politician (yeah, irony alert) totally out of his depth. And his recent decision to cast himself as heir to Thatcher is not a coalition-enhancing step in the right direction.

I can't think of any other Conservative who could demand (or command) the main stage. That means speaking at fringe meetings. There is a certain amount of deniability about anyone who speaks at a fringe meeting in that these are not usually arranged by the Party itself. There is the consequent danger, however, that the speaker will say something a bit too off message. But I have no doubt that there is an avalanche of invites going out to Tory frontbenchers to speak at fringe meetings right now.

A final thought - will any anti-coalition groups be inviting Labour speakers (or even coalition opposing Tories) just to stir the pot?

UPDATE - Jeremy Hargreaves (@jeremyharg) has just tweeted to say that Conference Committee has just decided not to invite David Cameron to speak at Lib Dem conference.


Tom King said...

Ken Clarke could do it.

CJQL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frenetica said...

"fraternal greetings to our co-operative party"! (sorry couldn't resist that one)!