Lib Dem Conference: The Sketch: Moment of reason passes and Luddite hysteria wins the day

SOME OF the motions at the Liberal Democrat conference are not exactly testing challenges to the pundit's powers of foresight. It's true that delegates have an unusual appetite for deciding nothing, rather than deciding something imperfect - which results in a high number of motions unexpectedly returned to sender - but there are still issues on the agenda that appear virtually delegate-proof.

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.

News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
newsBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books'It's a simple, sweet and charming tale; it’s very heartfelt'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game