The major announcement in Jo Swinson’s closing speech to conference on Tuesday, much trailed, was that the Liberal Democrats – were they to form a majority – would revoke Article 50 on their first day in government, ending Brexit overnight. She decried both Labour and Conservative as ‘tired old parties’, and suggested that Boris Johnson – somewhat perplexingly – was acting like a ‘socialist dictator’, while linking Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage in a feat of rhetorical contortion. As if to prove the Lib Dems’ moderation in all things, she unveiled a lukewarm climate policy, aiming for net-zero emissions by 2045, knocking five years off the government’s goal but giving themselves far more wiggle-room than the target of 2030 due to be debated by Labour next week.
The line that got the most applause at the opening rally of the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow came from Nick Clegg, but it wasn’t about housing or tax or civil liberties or nuclear power. It was about the party itself: ‘People who don’t understand us like to call debate division. I think it is debate that gives us our unity.’ He said that after the Syria vote he’d told David Cameron: ‘It’s not a defeat, it’s just a reference back.’
In 1972, the former Home Office minister Dick Taverne was deselected by the Lincoln Constituency Labour Party for being too pro-European. (The party had been out of office since June 1970, and parts of it had drifted as far to the unreal left as others would later move to the amoral right.) Taverne resigned, stood as an independent 'Democratic Labour' candidate and won a smashing victory. He now sits on the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords. With the coalition closing down hospital wards, refuge centres, public libraries, lavatories and employment, the Liberal Democrats have suffered a reversal in Barnsley which may be called historic – near total desertion by their former voters. There are plenty of Liberal Democrats, including MPs, for whom accepting the Osborne budget and cuts is a bitter reversal of a lifetime conviction.