Saturday morning in Sheffield this weekend sees the Lib Dem conference debating two of the areas of coalition which have generated the most controversy: the NHS and the future of the Disability Living Allowance.
The motion on the Disability Living Allowance (F4) has been slightly overtaken by events as the debate within government over the Welfare Reform Bill develops and in fact the plans in this area have in effect been sent back to the drawing board. That makes the motion all the more important, because rather than being simply a chance to cast a verdict on what the government has done, it is a chance to influence what is yet to be decided. The heart of the motion calls for “the Coalition Government to reinstate the Mobility Component or otherwise fund the mobility needs of those who cannot afford to do so themselves”.
Straight after this debate comes one on the NHS (F5). The choice of Andrew Wiseman, Federal Conference Committee’s chair, to chair this debate is a good sign that this is expected to be one of the liveliest of conference as is the news that two Liberal Democrat MPs have signed an EDM expressing concerns over the policy.
Buried in the middle of the motion are lines 16-17 which says that “Conference welcomes the vision for the NHS set out in the Government’s White Paper”. That may be glossed over as a bit of padding between long lists of less controversial points or it may be the trigger for an all-out row, as also may be the amendment likely to be debated that is coming from ex-MP and doctor Evan Harris and Lib Dem peer Shirley Williams (who made her views clear in “I can’t support the coalition plan for the NHS“).
The gap between what the amendment calls for and what Liberal Democrats in government have been pressing for is not that large, however – and some have already expressed the view that the amendment may be a good route to getting more changes made to the health plans. That will provide a pointed choice for those promoting the amendment – whether to try to bring about change through aggressive antagonism or through emollient persuasion? And is modifying the government plans or setting out what a Liberal Democrat majority government would do their top priority?
The full text of both motions are in the Spring Conference Agenda and Directory:49086177-Liberal-Democrat-Spring-Conference-Agenda-and-Directory-2011
Further information about the Liberal Democrat federal conference is available in the Party Conference section on the main party website and the official Lib Dem conference Twitter account is @LibDemConf.