Column One: Liberal Democrats lose their left wing on take-off

EARLY ARRIVALS at the Liberal Democrat conference in Harrogate were greeted by the sight of a bright yellow bubble car parked in prime position outside the conference hall. I have a vague memory that this appealing vehicle once featured in one of John Cleese's party political broadcasts for the Liberal Democrats, but even so it hardly seemed the most potent image for a party with a new driver at the wheel - cute, undoubtedly, but notoriously unstable when turning left or right.

Somebody else must have had their doubts too, because a little later this high-mileage hostage to fortune had disappeared - to be replaced by a local fire engine, turning out for the second false alarm of the day. Once again delegates frothed out of the hall en masse, speculating cheerfully about the interruption - some thought it had been caused by BBC equipment overheating; others identified it as more telling evidence of the party's slow march to power. Yes, they were big enough now to have their own bomb threats.

"We like to excite you at the Liberal Democrat conference," explained Charles Kennedy, as he sat down for his first press conference of the week.

Not too much, though. Just in case any of the journalists became over- stimulated by the arrival of the new leader, David Walter, the Liberal Democrats' director of media communication, first read out a long list of parish notices and timetable changes - forcing Mr Kennedy to maintain his expression of solemn purpose and resolve for longer than was truly comfortable. And if he had hoped that the second evacuation would be the last glitch of the opening day he had hoped in vain.

The session began well enough, with Mr Kennedy signalling that nothing could be taken for granted about the party's future co-operation with Labour. "I want us to underline distinctive policies" he said; opposition would be put "unequivocally", there was a "clear-cut choice for the country" between tax cuts and higher public spending. The first flush of exposure over, he looked confident and clear-minded. But, then, as he took questions from the floor, the Liberal Democrats began to fall apart.

The "o" in Democrats was the first to go, lurching slowly sideways, as if terminally depressed by the leader's announcement that "the general election campaign starts here". A few minutes later, as Mr Kennedy gravely dealt with a question on the party's attitude to the single currency, part of the bird's wing on the party logo fell off too.

Mr Kennedy pressed onwards, hoping to ride out the embarrassment. But then the other half dropped too. "That poor sod'll be flying in circles," observed a cameraman, presumably already calculating how quickly he could get the clip to It'll Be Alright On The Night.

Shortly after that, Mr Kennedy concluded his press conference and, unless he is a man of inhuman self-control, went off somewhere private to have his first leadership screaming fit.

Conference reports, page 6

Leading article,

Review, page 3

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Glazier

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist historic buildi...

Recruitment Genius: Office and Customer Services Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small but very busy (and f...

Recruitment Genius: Portfolio Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has become known a...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer - Midlands

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot