When I planned my visit this weekend to the Lib Dem’s conference in Bournemouth, it was to see how a party goes from government to irrelevance in one short year. Last autumn in Glasgow the Deputy Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet were present. This year you will be lucky to spot one of the eight MPs amongst the diminished group of activists who will huddle in a hall now far too big for their needs.

It will be a long way back for the Lib Dems but they may have been given a boost by the election of Jeremy Corbyn. The new Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, is claiming he’s had lots of Labour MPs ringing him up dismayed by the first week of Corbynism. This may be pre conference nonsense and I’m not convinced the despair of right wing Labour MPs is so great that they would leave the sinking ship of Labour (as they presumably see it) to get into the waterlogged rowing boat that is the Lib Dems. Comparisons have been made with the position of Labour moderates after Michael Foot’s election in 1981. Then there were former Cabinet Ministers like Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and David Owen who had enough stature to form the Social Democrats. It is difficult to see who would lead such a defection now except David Miliband and he is over the water, for now.

Anyway the Lib Dems don’t really need defecting MPs, what they need are voters who don’t want to go down Corbyn’s socialist road but prefer the left of centre position of Tim Farron. He was elected as the more radical of the two Lib Dem leadership candidates and unlike his opponent Norman Lamb had not been tainted by serving alongside Tories in the Coalition government.

In his keynote speech next week, I expect Farron to say he is the fresh leader and distance himself from the Tory led Coalition that nearly finished his party off. He might even pledge never to do a deal with them again. In these circumstances his party might start the long road back a little sooner flushed with the support of some ex Labour voters.


Not that Corbyn’s first week has been as bad as the

The Tory press would lead you to believe. Prime Minister’s Questions was a refreshing change. David Cameron toned down the Bullingdon Club rhetoric and some ordinary people got their questions answered.

On the issue of Corbyn not singing the National Anthem at the Battle of Britain service, those pilots died to defend freedom of expression. Corbyn is a republican and doesn’t want the Queen to reign over him. So why should he sing it and be called a hypocrite by the Daily Mail, a paper which ran headlines supporting Mosley’s fascists in the thirties?

I think the Spitfire pilots would have been happy with him standing in dignified silence.







As if the heavy election defeat was not bad enough, the Labour leadership contest seems to me to have compounded the party’s problem. There is no sign of the fundamental debate Labour need. There is merely the usual rush by MPs to get behind one candidate or another. And a pretty uninspiring bunch of candidates they are, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. There are calls for a constitutional break clause so that if after three years the new leader isn’t doing the business, they can be sacked. That says it all about the quality of the field.

If we are talking about interim arrangements, Alan Johnson should have realised his duty and led the party for a couple of years to sort things out.

In the first place it was wrong for both Ed Miliband and Harriet Harmer to announce their resignations. In 2005 Michael Howard stayed on as leader of the Conservative Party for six months after his General Election defeat so that the Tories could hold their inquest. Hustings were held at the party conference and voting took place afterwards.

Labour has rushed into a leadership contest were the focus is on the personalities and not on the huge questions the party should be discussion. They include, should there be a separate Scottish Party with a similar relationship to Labour as the SDLP in Northern Ireland, and should feelers be put out to the Greens and Lib Dems about a grand union of the left.

If that’s too bold they need to work out how they are going to appeal to left leaning Scots, UKIP leaning blue collar workers in the north, and aspirational voters in the south all at the same time. Do you hear any of the leadership candidates addressing that multi headed question?


If it wasn’t to be David Miliband in 2010 then I thought Andy Burnham would have been the right choice. He remains a really nice bloke that every Mum wants to cuddle but it pains me to say that he would be the wrong choice this time. I’ve reached this conclusion because of the scale of Labour’s defeat in Scotland and the South. In Scotland Burnham will just be seen as another English leader whilst in the South there will be suspicion about his union links. His declaration that he is “Labour through and through” plays well for a leadership election but not in Oxford, Swindon and Southampton. His insistence that the NHS played such a central role in the campaign didn’t work and he will always be encumbered by introducing a measure of privatisation when he was Health Secretary.

Yvette Cooper is probably counting on coming through the middle as most people’s second choice. This may explain her colourless campaign. The plan seems to be say as little as possible. My problem with Cooper is that she is colourless and lacking in ideas and would be wholly unsuited to be leader at this time of great challenge for Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn had to be helped into the contest by MPs nominating him although they have no intention of voting for him. What a daft system! At least Corbyn is not colourless but his left wing views disqualify him from consideration.

So we come to Liz Kendall who I very reluctantly support because of the absence of Dan Jarvis, Chukka Umunna and Alan Johnson. The party in England has to move back to the centre and she represents that position. She is relatively untainted by Labour’s past. It is a gamble as she lacks stature big time. But then again when Michael Howard finally stood down in December 2005, how many saw the posh boy from the Bullingdon Club as a two term Prime Minister.