Tuesday in Bournemouth will be about the applause, not the votes

Tuesday morning at Lib Dem conference sees the party’s pre-manifesto document, A Fresh Start for Britain, up for debate. It’s been a regular feature of recent Liberal Democrat conferences to have high-profile votes on tax and spend issues, and with the numerous announcements in the last few days, you might have expected the debate to feature another one.

However, this time the tension between different policy outlooks in the party will not be resolved out in the open with a debate and vote. Instead, those who are keenest on protecting levels of public spending as far as possible have cleverly blocked in those who are keenest on reducing it as much as possible. Their tool? An apparently anodyne amendment to add to the motion:

Noting that, despite reports, the document neither abandons nor downgrades any existing policy commitments, and that the process of prioritising policy commitments will only be carried out in the preparation of the General Election manifesto.

The “despite reports” part is not a dig at the media, but rather a move to ensure that these decisions get made with the full involvement of the Federal Policy Committee (FPC), on which those who are keenest on preserving public spending have a very strong presence.

Given the party conference’s love of the party’s democratic policy processes, who in public is going to dare say they want to sideline the party’s key policy committee? So rather than triggering a row, the amendment has been accepted and will be supported in public on all sides.

Watch out, therefore, not for a defining vote but rather the reception that different speakers get.

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