Fringe meeting at a fringe Party Conference

Yesterday I addressed The Freedom Association (TFA) fringe meeting at the Lib-Dem Party Conference.  After a journey from Brussels too challenging to describe (I’m trying not to take the Channel Tunnel fire personally), I found myself in a meeting room at the Royal Exeter Hotel, opposite the Bournemouth Conference Centre.  Casting my eye around the assembled throng, there seemed to be a lot of familiar faces and rather few actual Lib-Dems, which was a shame.  Because I’d been looking forward to congratulating them on their Party’s decision to start distancing themselves (however belatedly and tentatively) from their traditional addiction to Europhilia.  I might also have congratulated them on their new-found commitment to a tax-cutting agenda.
 
Colleagues from The Freedom Association (of which I am Honorary Chairman) had been out on the streets of Bournemouth during the Conference in support of a key Lib-Dem policy.  The Lib-Dems have broken their promise to support a referendum on the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty, but in an attempt to confuse the issue (and also because they think they might win it) they have flown a kite for an In/Out referendum on the EU.  So TFA went out with an opinion poll — presented with scrupulous fairness to avoid any bias — and asked passers-by (including a few delegates from the Lib-Dem Conference): “In an In/Out referendum on the EU, how would you vote?”.  In Bournemouth at least the answer was clear.  78% want Out.
 
You have to feel sorry for the Liberals.  They have no obvious principles.  Their policy at any one time is based solely on immediate electoral advantage.  Do they want to take seats from the Tories (or defend Lib-Dem seats against a Tory challenge)?  Or is Labour their target?  They are clearly in a panic about Lib-Dem seats under threat from Conservatives (especially in the South West), so they are tip-toeing to a more Conservative-friendly position on tax and Europe.  Logical, but cynical and unprincipled.  They are indeed doing the right things.  But it is too little, too late.
 
The choice at the next election is between the dwindling band who want to continue the New Labour experiment (or at least to keep Labour in power), and the increasing number who want an alternative government, which can only be Conservative.  Now, more than ever, the Liberals are irrelevant.  In living memory they have only ever been a protest vote.  And in the next General Election, protest votes against Labour will largely go to the Conservatives.

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