As the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference ends after a three day spectacular in Liverpool have they done enough to convince their hardliners over the much maligned coalition?
Coming just weeks before the publication of the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review it seems inevitable that the planned cuts would form a large part of the charm offensive.
The key message on cuts seemed to be that of fairness and both Deputy PM and party leader Nick Clegg and Business Secretary Vince Cable were keen to emphasise this.
Mr Clegg spoke about the inevitability of cuts but focused on the need to administer them fairly and proportionately, saying “the Spending Review is about balance and responsibility not slash and burn” and pointing to his commitment to bring tax dodgers to account and the abolition of income tax altogether for 900,000 people as testimony.
He made particular mention of his own constituency of Sheffield Hallam, where he has faced his harshest criticism for the perception that he has failed to protect the North from harsh spending reductions:
“We will not repeat the mistakes of the 1980s in which whole communities were hollowed out. I know from my constituents in Sheffield how worried people are that cuts will hurt the North in the way the industrial changes of the 1980s did. So let me say to everybody in those communities, in Scotland and in Wales, many of whose lives were torn apart. Yes, it will be difficult, but it will not be like the 80s. We will not let that happen. We will make these cuts as fairly as possible.”
The message of fairness was reinforced by Vince Cable, who went as far as to suggest this informs the role of the LibDems in government, announcing that “the biggest test of our party’s contribution to the coalition is whether we can ensure fairness more widely”.
Mr. Cable was careful to approach the conference audience in respectful tones (perhaps mindful of the mauling his speech previews had received) and closing with a plea for support:
“In a few short months we have showed how we can advance our party’s policies and principles while serving the wider national interest. But we need to sell this message. The Tories will not do that for us. We have to do it ourselves. That means focus leaflets and doorsteps. That means you. We need you. All of you.”
Coupled with Clegg’s appeal to “stick with us” this is an impassioned and credible attempt to restore party faith but will it work?