21st November 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Letter from Westminster

, by , in Features

The defining characteristic of Liberal Democrat conferences has always been the refusal of Liberal Democrat members to do as they were told.

This has produced some moments of political drama over the years as conference has, to the delight of the watching media, given the party leadership a bloody nose.

This year again the conference-goers refused to follow the script as the party gathered in Liverpool. The only difference was that the script that they refused to follow this year was one which had been written for them by the massively swollen ranks of the media.

I long ago lost count of the number of journalists who had asked me how the party leadership was going to avoid humiliation at the hands of unhappy party members. In fact, in almost over 25 years of attending political conferences I have never known Lib Dem activists be so upbeat, united and purposeful. It was uplifting. Of course the journalists had written their stories before they even left London on the train but by the end of the week they were admitting that it had not been the political bloodbath that they had hoped for.

The way in which political reporting is no longer journalists reporting on what happens in politics struck me when watching the declaration of the Labour Party leadership on Saturday afternoon.

After the first round of voting figures had been announced the BBC then brought in Nick Robinson who confidently declared that on the basis of these figures the new leader would be (cue drum roll) David Miliband. If he had kept listening to the figures that were read out then he would have heard that Miliband junior was closing the gap. He could have also saved himself the em-barrassment that followed a few minutes later with the final result.

Time will tell whether or not the Labour Party has chosen the right leader. Neither Miliband has spent a great deal of time around the Com­mons so I can’t claim to know either of them well.

My impression has always been that Ed is the warmer personality of the two but that David might be more willing to face up to the hard political choices.

I hope for the sake of the country that Ed Miliband is a successful leader. The House of Commons needs good opposition to be an effect check on the government.

Away from the party conferences politics continued as usual and the unilateral increases in mackerel quotas by Iceland and the Faroes continues to be of concern for our fishermen.

I was pleased that when the EU discussed it they took a strong line and that, for the first time, the Scottish fisheries minister was allowed to have his say. I never understood why the previous government refused to allow this to happen and I am pleased that the coalition is prepared to be more rational about it.

Alistair Carmichael MP