Compared to the flurry of activity to win over Liberal Democrat conference representatives on the party’s proposed Trident policy, there’s been remarkably little activity over Monday’s vote in Glasgow for or against a 50p top rate of income tax.
People in the party leadership I’ve spoken to are increasingly confident that conference will vote against a 50p rate. There’s some justification for that confidence, given how conference has voted previously and the fact that it’s an issue Vince Cable feels strongly on and so may well contribute to the debate.
Winning a vote at a Liberal Democrat conference on a tax policy when you’re up against Vince Cable would be a very tall order indeed.
Which leaves the question of how the votes will go in the main economy motion debate, also due on Monday. As I reported previously and as Lib Dem Voice‘s Caron Lindsay has argued, the wording of the amendments from the Social Liberal Forum don’t force anyone to have a fight. Their wording leaves enough scope not only for the SLF to trumpet the passage of the amendments as a significant expression of economic differentiation from George Osborne whilst also allowing Nick Clegg to say that he’s happy with what they say as they don’t go against the sort of things that Vince Cable has said in public.
However, if one or both sides are determined to make a symbolic conflict out of it, then the precise wording of the amendments doesn’t matter.
So far, it looks like partial peace and partial conflict will both break out – with parts of the SLF’s amendments being accepted without opposition by Nick Clegg, but with a push for a separate vote on the parts that talk about rebalancing the fiscal mandate.
Will Nick Clegg win such a vote? He will be speaking last in the debate, but only for 4 minutes(-ish). He’ll have the support of people such as Steve Webb to call on (likely to move the motion).
Against that he’ll have a well organised SLF operation (complete with its own microsite to support its amendments).
And hovering over all that is Vince Cable, with his call for compromise reported by The Guardian:
Cable urged the Lib Dems to avoid a conference confrontation over economic policy, saying it should be possible for the leadership to embrace amendments calling for a more independent approach.
Not only will the debate be interesting, so will the maneuvering in the run up to it continue to be.