Lib Dem Conference: The Sketch: Moment of reason passes and Luddite hysteria wins the day
Even in a party this wedded to the idea that the good is the enemy of the perfect, it seemed vanishingly unlikely that they would vote against the reconstruction of Kosovo or in favour of hate-crimes. I had wrongly assumed that the debate on GM food might fall into the same category - given that the issue was perfectly engineered to arouse activists' mistrust of big business and technological determinism.
The early speakers confirmed initial suspicions. "We wouldn't be able to put the gene back in the bottle", punned one, urging delegates to toughen up the proposed moratorium on commercial growing of GM crops. The next added to the sense of global corporate conspiracy against our digestive systems, by revealing the existence of the Codex Alimentarius, a little- known international body that governs food safety rules. The name suited the general paranoia perfectly; its members sounded as if they gather at night in disused quarries, wearing monks' cowls and executing any hapless tourists who stumble on their dark machinations.
But then Tim Farron came to the podium. The motion was driven by "reckless, inaccurate, craven populism" he said. It was a surrender to "tabloid hysteria", evidence of a "reborn Luddite movement". I braced myself for mad-cow moos of disapproval, but the hall listened thoughtfully to his tirade. And when he slammed down his final soundbite ("I refuse to accept that knowledge should be a banned ingredient") they actually applauded.
Other like-minded speakers followed. "One-quarter of our genes are the same as those of the cabbage", announced Veronica Watkins, making the point that nature herself takes a liberal view of genetic modification. "Fortunately the other three-quarters make most of us different". The "most of" was rather pointed, given that she was swimming against the general tide of prejudice, but the delegates all chuckled indulgently. If there was a brassica tendency in the hall, everyone clearly thought it was seated elsewhere.
It wasn't all going the dissidents' way but there were plenty of them and, by my admittedly partial assessment, the mood of the delegates seemed finely balanced between rejection and approval. Then one speaker swung the conference squarely behind the motion again. In the "offices held" section of his speaker's card Charles Kennedy had written "Leader of Party". It was, said the session chairman proudly, striking evidence of the egalitarian nature of the Liberal Democrats. It would have been more striking still if Mr Kennedy hadn't been called, or if he'd been rebuked for over-running his allotted five minutes - but then there are limits to democracy.
Earlier Dr Evan Harris had warned the delegates: "Do not fall into the trap of being led by tabloid scaremongering". Mr Kennedy, by contrast, thought the populist bandwagon looked a perfectly sensible way to travel: "The consumer and citizen is king" he reminded delegates, and, what's more, "we've got to be bolder in our commitment to the environment".
In this case, oddly, boldness takes the form of being cautious to the point of paralysis, but that's neither here nor there. Mr Kennedy's stage-managed intervention was high-minded in its tone but at heart it was an appeal for the party to behave politically not rationally, to put public prejudice before private knowledge.
In a nice Freudian slip an anti-GM speaker had earlier begged delegates to "vote for the emotion". After Mr Kennedy's canny bit of rabble-rousing, they did so overwhelmingly.
- 1 Jennifer Lawrence scores first UK top 40 single with Hunger Games track 'The Hanging Tree'
- 2 Shia LaBeouf claims he was raped during #IAMSORRY art installation performance
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Michael Buerk wishes he killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
Kim Jong-un 'in dire need of allies' within his own government as younger sister appointed to senior role
Black Friday UK: The shops hit by chaos and violence as shopping frenzy sweeps country
Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
Russell Brand: 'Katy Perry? I don’t know who that is'
Michael Buerk wishes he killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Ukip mocked after mistaking Westminster Cathedral – for a mosque
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
David Cameron sets out immigration reforms: We should distrust Ukip and their 'snake-oil of simple solutions'
£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...
£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...
£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...
£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...