Good Ol’ Liberals

In many ways it wasn’t different to Liberal Democrat conferences past, the worthiness and rejection of the establishment were all still there; it’s just so was Special Branch and a daily flyover from an RAF Tornado. 

Such is life in Coalition Government, which of course was the main thrust of almost every speech in the hall and conversation at the bar.  Mostly favourable, although those completely implacable at the thought of no longer being in opposition made their voices heard just about everywhere they could:

Welcome to a training even on team building.

“I want to complain about the coalition.”

Welcome to a fringe on Afghanistan, Pakistan and the partition of central Asia.

“I want to complain about the coalition.”

Welcome to Glee Club: drink, sing and be merry.

“I want to complain about the coalition.  And the bar prices.  Which are probably the fault of the coalition.”

As an interpretation this is probably unfair.  Liberal Democrats *get* the coalition.  They understand the opportunities of a power they’ve not had for years.   Even those less in favour accept and understand there was little alternative. 

And of course if the media weren’t so confused about what exactly a coalition is the issue of alternative would be the real question for the Lib Dems: Would you be in a coalition with a Labour party if they had dumped Brown and the parliamentary arithmetic worked?  Would you have formed a coalition if the economic circumstances had been more benign, to take advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity for power? 

In fairness, there is evidence that the media is finally getting it: the virtue of Fleet Street actually getting off its backside, seeing something other than an office in London, and talking to people for once.

The debating hall was probably a bit deferential to Government.  There’s something about a room full of cameras that probably makes people less likely to pop up with an unresearched brain fart. 

But there’s nothing so disciplined in the discussions on the fringe.   These things are always a bit odd, small rooms full of a mix of the generally interested and dedicated hobbyhorsistas.  The rail ones in particular are an almost gladiatorial event between who has the most wry anecdote or statistic about subsidies or “bogeys,” whatever they are.

But on the first one I visited, the speaker asked the room if she could eschew the unwieldy microphone in favour of being able to handle her notes. 

“Can you hear me at the back?”

“YES!”

“Oh good, well I won’t use the microphone then.”

“What about people with hearing difficulties who use the loop system?” said one.

“Yes!” agreed the rest.

“Okay,” she said.  “So… does anyone actually need to use the loop system?”

Deathly silence. 

Good ol’ Liberals.  Just because they’re in coalition doesn’t mean they’re going to stop being PC warriors.  And in a Government which would have had people like this saying that less-able kids weren’t entitled to any more support from the Government then they already get, I’m surprised more people aren’t grateful that they are there to fight that particular fight where it matters.

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