Nick Clegg did his obligatory Q&A at conference. Rather than write a post just with my responses, I have posted some of the questions here with my responses to each of his answers (where relevant) below.
Q: Why was the health bill allowed to progress when it was not in the coalition agreement?
Clegg says there is a coalition committee that considers proposals not in the coalition agreement. He chairs that with David Cameron. The approved the plans. They have been amended.
He says he hopes the conference will show support to Shirley Williams. It is important for the Lib Dems to support her, not Andy Burnham.
It is important that we Liberal Democrats show that we are on Shirley Williams’ side not Andy Burnham’s side.
Now this would be all well and good but for two things. 1) If there is anything being discussed that is ‘outside’ of the coalition agreement such as the NHS for example, then I do not think that those discussions which affect Liberal Democrats should be held behind closed doors in Westminster. Nick Clegg and the other members of the PLDP should bring those matters which affect our policy to conference and let members decide. Surely that would avoid the awful messes that we have recently ended up in? 2) The bill was NOT written by Shirley Williams, it was written by Nick Clegg and his team and attaching it to Shirley is disingenuous at best and a cynical ploy to try and win over delegates to vote for something they strongly disagreed with.
Making this a Shirley Williams v Andy Burnham bunfight is simply wrong and politicking with peoples lives.
Q: What are you going to do about the polls? And how do we convince people we are on their side?
Clegg says he always thought going into a coalition would cause a problem.
And don’t think going into coalition would have been “a breeze”. In the south west the Lib Dems rely on lots of centre-right voters.
Forming the coalition has disrupted the normal order of things, he says.
He also says that people don’t know what the Lib Dems have achieved. Rattling of a list of achievements, he asks his audience: Do they know this? The Lib Dems “don’t have a lot of friends in the press,” he says. They have some vicious opponents. So they have to tell people what they have done.
And while I agree with telling people the good things that we have done in government, it does;n’t excuse the fact that the media and opposition in this country don’t listen to the good stuff. The UK can be miserable some of the time and knowing our media as we do, we know for a fact that the bad stuff is the stuff that they, and Labour will concentrate on to hammer the point home.
Perhaps my biggest question back to Nick Clegg would be “If you knew that coalition was going to be such a problem, why on earth didn’t you and the party at HQ have a plan for how we would deal with it, both in media and PR and campaigning terms until now?
Q: What are you most proud of among the things you have done in office? And what would you have done better?
Clegg says that he has learnt that you cannot get the public to accept a solution unless you have explained first what the problem is. On health, the Lib Dems did not explain the problems caused by an ageing population.
As for best achievements, Clegg mentions the pupil premium and lifting the income tax threshold. The pupil premium is only just having an effect, he says. It is exciting to hear headteachers talking about it.
On this I agree with Nick 100%. All of these are policies that we should be incredibly proud of. I would also add into this the record numbers of apprenticeships that we have brought into play, the Freedom Bill and last but not least ending child detention. All things that we should epically proud of whatever happens at the next elections and into 2015