Posted by: Isabel Hardman19/09/2010
Oh, and one more: as I left the conference centre after Mr Clegg’s session, I was trying to listen in to conversations around me to see what delegates thought of the deputy prime minister’s performance, but all I could hear was a large number of debates about whether or not to take an afternoon nap. Being in coalition is clearly exhausting.
A few entertaining snippets from the past 24 hours while I’m waiting for the next fringe session to start:
Last night as I checked in to my hotel, the receptionist said: ‘Now, I have to warn you that the hotal may be rather noisy tonight as it is full of stag parties and Lib Dems.’ When I woke up at 6am, someone was singing in the street outside my room, although I’m pretty certain it wasn’t about electoral reform.
Plenty of grizzling about Tories nicking Lib Dem policies: Andrew Stunnell politely pointed out that the paper he wrote several years ago was almost entirely aped by the Tories a few years later. He claimed the only difference was that Grant Shapps’ name appeared on the front cover. Apparently when the two men found they were working together in the Communities and Local Government department, Mr Stunnell ‘pulled Grant’s leg’ about the identical papers, to which Mr Shapps said he’d taken on the Lib Dem policies ‘because they were the best ones.’
I’ve just come out of a question-and-answer session with the deputy prime minister, which started off with a visible layer of frost coating the questions. One question in particular hinted at the dissatisfaction that has widely been reported in the party: ‘Why are the Lib Dems being blamed for cuts when the Conservatives are getting praise for Lib Dem policies?’ But Mr Clegg managds to win the audience round on this one. He said it is far too early to really judge how well the Lib Dems are doing in coalition.
Mr Clegg also pooh-poohed the idea that he should be speaking out publicly about policies he’s unhappy with (which would explain why he’s keeping rather quiet about housing benefit cuts). He said this sort of behaviour would cause the coalition to collapse, which would mean the party wouldn’t have any chance of achieving what it wanted.
He also reminded the party that it isn’t in power: it is in coalition. He said: ‘If you want Liberal Democrat policies, make sure that we win the next election.’ That sparked plenty of happy applause.
The session ended with the customary standing ovation, so at least Lib Dems aren’t so annoyed that they want to abandon conference convention.
It was all rather impressive: Liberal Democrats will stand in every constituency at the 2015 election, and the government is increasing the level of aid to Pakistan. But on the housing front, tonight’s debate with Shelter at 8pm may open up some of the wounds over cuts and policy.
A member of the audience asks Mr Stunnell about a future decent homes standard that might include energy efficiency. He criticises the current decent homes standard for focusing on kitchens and bathrooms, and failing to make any difference to whether someone can afford to stay warm.
But he’s aware that adding energy efficiency standards to homes may well drive down the number of homes it is possible to build, and he has commissioned research to discover how many new homes might be lost through this. Cutting the number of new homes built may not be politically acceptable, he says.
Unfortunately, Andrew Stunnell, CLG minister, doesn’t agree. There isn’t any money available to go down the financial incentives route, he says.
Another Climate Clinic session over lunch: this time on energy efficiency in homes. Simon McWhirter from the Great British Refurb campaign tells the room that though the green deal is a great idea, he is not convinced that the market will take off with quite the alacrity ministers are predicting. He recommends a financial incentive to get homeowners insulating their homes on a large scale. He is also disappointed that microgeneration has been cut out of the new slimmed down post-election deal as it stands now. It’s a shame, he says, because the green deal would have encouraged people to install renewables, while the feed-in-tariff is only useful once you’ve got photovoltaic panels installed on your roof.
The chief secretary announces a £900 million package to tackle tax evasion.
On welfare, Mr Alexander says Labour left a ‘grim legacy’ for welfare, with 2.5 million people on incapacity benefit and many more on out of work benefits. ‘Where Labour failed, we will reform,’ he says. they will look at all benefits in a mission to give support to those who need it and get people back into work.
Labour would have imposed worse cuts than the coalition, and the pain would have lasted for longer, he adds. And the coalition has a credible plan. He’s going to set out the Lib Dem principles for the spending review.
‘Gordon Brown is very generous - with other people’s money,’ says Mr Alexander. He was ‘like the drunk in the pub who says ‘lend me a tenner and I’ll buy everyone a drink.’
Danny Alexander has ‘never been so proud to be a Liberal Democrat’. He’s also proud of the coalition agreement. ‘We get on a great deal better than the last lot did, and we ill achieve a great deal more,’ he says.
Danny Alexander due to come on now. It will be interesting to see if he’s got any more clues on this mysterious £4 billion of welfare cuts.
The main arena is now filling up in anticipation of Danny Alexander’s speech. Tessa Munt (MP for Wells) is speaking. She says the party needs to get used to being in power and using that power. She also says that as a Lib Dem whip, she knows there are a number of government policies that she will disagree with. But she says: ‘I don’t think we should be involved in any mudslinging across Parliament.’
Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has told The Scotsman that cuts to welfare could go deeper than that extra £4 billion Osborne has been talking about. He’s speaking at the conference in a couple of hours’ time, so we might get more details on this then.
Mike Hancock MP, author of a letter to ministers which calls for them to spend a month trying live on housing benefit before they cut them, is quoted in the Independent on Sunday today. He says: ‘The party’s mood is a bit different to how Clegg sees it. The people who changed party loyalty to vote for us are pretty p****d off. I think we’re going to get punished.’
Nick Clegg is talking to Andrew Marr on BBC1. He doesn’t acknowledge the extra £4 billion in welfare savings announced by George Osborne two weeks ago, but he doesn’t deny it either.He says: ‘We haven’t come to any decisions on the £4 billion figure. Some people are developing fears which might even turn out to be exaggerated. We’re going to look at all benefits in the round. I don’t think it’s right only to look at benefits for people on low incomes.’
Vince Cable has told the audience that the Green Investment Bank will ‘necessarily start off small’ and gather more investment as momentum grows. He also says that commercial banks will not provide the finance needed for the low carbon economy. Instead, pension funds are the ideal vehicle for the long-term investment needed for infrastructure.
First full day of the Lib Dem conference starts with a panel discussion between business secretary Vince Cable and Tony Greenham, head of finance and business at the New Economics Foundation. They’re discussing banking for a low carbon economy.
From Out of office
What the Inside Housing writers have been up to when they’ve been prised away from their desks