Today, Brighton welcomes the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference with tight security in place courtesy of Sussex Police. This time, the ring of steel is in place around the venue not to keep protesters out, but to keep Nick Clegg in.
With grass root Liberal Democrat activists complaining of verbal abuse out on the stump and having leaflets thrown back in their faces, Clegg is not the first Liberal luminary to face the ire of his party. As the 19th century turned into the 20th century, David Lloyd George split the party with his principled and vocal opposition to the Second Boer War. His argument was based on the morality, legality and cost of the colonialist adventure. Sound familiar? Lloyd George went on to unite the party and became what is considered to be one of this countries` greatest Prime Ministers. It might worth comparing Lloyd George and Nick Clegg and consider what these two great men have in common.
Lloyd George reunited the Liberals by opposing the government`s Education Act which, incidentally made him popular with voters. Clegg pledged to scrap tuition fees and we all know what happened to that particular promise. Clegg voted with the government to privatise education and scrap ESA and Surestart. The big Liberal Democrat idea of the Pupil Premium, one of the few trinkets he brought to the cabinet table, has just this week been proved to be completely ineffectual and has made no difference to disadvantaged children.
As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George introduced the “People`s Budget” in 1909 which introduced state support for sick and disabled people. This support would be financed by taxation on land and incomes and duty on tobacco and alcohol. The budget was initially blocked by Conservative peers in the House of Lords (sound familiar?) but elections in 1910 saw the budget approved. In 1911, Lloyd George introduced both the National Insurance Act, the Unemployment Insurance Act and widened the availability of old age pensions. In so doing laid the foundations for the creation of a welfare state. Clegg has voted with the government to dismantle the welfare state by allowing corporate vultures like Virgin, Serco and ATOS to profit by not providing an adequate service to sick and disabled people. Clegg also introduced the Youth Contract which has directly led to Workfare, you know, the scheme that allows big companies to make staff redundant and replace them with free labour.
Contrition is a rare thing in politics and it will be interesting to hear if Nick Clegg is prepared to apologise to conference for making the Liberal Democrats unelectable and for consigning the party to oblivion. His toe-curling apology over tuition fees might by viewed as brave by some activists, embarrassing by others and confirmation to the electorate that he will be offered a safe Tory seat in the home counties wearing a blue rosette. Some wag could autotune apologies over broken promises on VAT, the NHS and opposition to replacing Trident. He could be joined on a compilation charity CD entitled “Apology” by David Laws, Mark Oaten, Chris Huhne and John Hemming. Sadly, Lembit Opik is busy touring with his band in Eastern Europe.
For those interested, this is what Brighton has to offer:
Sarah Teather comes out of hiding at 14-50 to talk about education. Don`t worry, it won`t take long.
Nick Clegg will take a Q and A at 15-05. A must see before his tour of Berkshire constituencies.
Vince Cable does his funny turn at 12-20.
Danny Alexander will squeak and look confused at 12-20. As an added bonus there is an emergency debate at 14-20. The subject of which is yet to be announced.
Another intriguing emergency debate at 09-45 and then the big one. At 14-00 Nick Clegg will give a rousing speech to close the conference providing he survives the emergency debates.
For all their similarities, there is a major difference between David Lloyd George and Nick Clegg. Lloyd George may have profited from insider dealing and sold honours for cash, but he would never, ever, ever have been so stupid to allow himself to take the blame for spiteful, divisive and downright malicious Tory policies. Clegg claims to be the controlling influence over the slash and burn profiteering unleashed by Cameron and his well off chums but in reality the carnage continues unchecked and everybody is blaming the Liberal Democrats rather than the public school elite. Demanding electoral reform and reform of the House of Lords, Clegg has achieved precisely nothing apart from public distain and ridicule. The nation might be laughing at the Liberal Democrats but there is one man who laughing the loudest.