Saturday, 19 June 2010

Nick Clegg at Lib Dem local government conference

Nick Clegg was the star speaker at today's Liberal Democrat local government conference in London. Nick gave a good speech telling a packed and appreciative audience about the progress with the coalition to date and the difficult decisions that are coming up in the near future.

The funniest moment of the event was when Nick was asked about the timing of the AV referendum. He started his answer by saying:

"I hope to be able to make an announcement about that sometime in the..."

At that point, he stopped and apologised for sounding just like ministers always do. He then went on to give a much fuller explanation about what he hoped to be able to do and when. The key point he made is, of course, that he hopes to be able to set the ball rolling sooner rather than later, but also that he was aiming for a post-legislative referendum. In other words, rather than have a Bill enabling a referendum, then the referendum itself, and then another piece of legislation to shift to AV, there would only need to be a single Act of Parliament. That helps to speed the process along massively and helps to avoid any change (if the voters approve) being delayed until after the next election.

It was a strong performance from Nick. The tone of the questions seemed to imply that the councillors present were concerned about the implementation of plans rather than the plans themselves.

The other highlight of the conference was the presence of Education Secretary Michael Gove who answered questions from a group of councillors. This was the first instance of a Tory or Lib Dem speaking at an event hosted by the other coalition partner that I know of. There is a bit of speculation about whether Nick will go to the Tory conference this autumn - I know nothing about that - but this was certainly a positive toe in the water if that really is the plan.

Certainly the recent local election results have been generally positive for the Lib Dems and this conference showed that Lib Dem councillors are currently a pretty buoyant group.

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