Once again Iain Dale and his Liberal Democrat panel have placed me amongst the 50 most influential Liberal Democrats (29 up from 33 if you really want to know!) I don’t know how Mr Dale comes to that conclusion – it certainly doesn’t seem that way to me but perhaps there is a grain of truth in the statement not about me but about the way that our party operates.
That truth was brought home to me at the Lib Dem group reception when Nick Clegg came to join us. I joked that he had not washed his hand since he met the Pope and that he was actually gate crashing the Party because we hadn’t invited him. He had everyone in stitches when he had a go at my sense of dress and saying that the suit design I had went out of fashion in the 60s. A journalist at the event who does the three Party rounds told me afterwards that nothing like that would ever happen at a Labour or Tory event. At those conferences the leadership is treated with respect if not reverence. Everyone hopes to catch the eye of the Master.
Long may Lib Dems continue to be irreverent to our leadership. One of the problems of being in control, (nationally and locally) is that it it’s too easy to get cocooned in a bubble where courtiers fawn over you and tell you what you want to hear. It was clear that the Labour Government rapidly lost touch with reality and believed what they wanted to believe.
I am proud of our magnificent 20 – the Lib Dem Ministers that have taken office in the coalition. I know most of them well and know that they have entered politics because they wanted to do something – not be someone. After all anyone joining the Lib Dems as a political career option is still making a big mistake. They are doing their best behind the scenes as well as in front of them to deliver the manifesto on which we all fought. Sometimes they can tell us what they are doing. Perhaps the influence that I have on behalf of councillors is to know a little of that private work and advise on it. We have 16% of the coalition MPs but clearly more than 16% of the influence within government.
Already our Ministers are able to reel off successes in policy delivery with the promise of more to come. Indeed if it were not for the appalling legacy of financial ineptitude that we have inherited there might even have been a dangerous smugness about conference. They are not doing everything right. Where we as councillors disagree with them we will tell them so clearly openly and frankly. I have just agreed to appear for the LGA at the Commons Select Committee reviewing coalition proposals regarding Elected police Commissioners and took part in a number of discussions about Elected Mayors where the Government is just plain wrong. I will be absolutely clear about where we stand, argue for alternatives but still leave Ministers in a spirit of friendship.
During Conference we arranged 7 meetings between Ministers and council Leaders/ spokespersons. We met as equals – informing each other about problems and opportunities. We will join up policy making at the centre with delivery at ground level in a way that cannot be done in the other parties because they lack the clear sense of family that we have. People complain about tribalism. I don’t . My tribe is the Liberal Democrats and I’m in it for life