No room in the bed for Labour

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It being a splendid day in Brighton, with the call of the sea and seaside pursuits tugging at my urban soul, it took a particular effort of will to point myself at the Sheridan Hotel, and spend my lunch-time with Liberal Democrat activists, at a meeting entitled "Why We Do Not Want To Get Into Bed With Labour".

I nearly got very lost. The arrows that the meeting's organisers had thoughtfully provided for guidance, led into the labyrinthine bowels of a small hotel, taking me first to the left, then to the right, through a fire door, and finally back in the street outside. It was an omen.

I finally found the room and, while waiting for others to arrive, pondered the name given to the debate. It was at once both a euphemism and a metaphor. "Getting into bed" with someone usually connotes sexual activity. This in turn is a metaphor for a closer political relationship between New Labour and Lib-Dems.

The organisers of the meeting, therefore, were expressing their disinclination to have political sex with Tone and Gordon and Jack. So who were these reluctant seducees? And why were they so keen to resist the embraces of a supposedly amorous major party?

In the Liberal Democrat Party, whenever there is talk of grass-roots opposition to X, or activist resentment of Y, the odd figure of Tony Greaves, veteran councillor for Pendle in Lancashire, can be descried in the distance, and coming closer. A pavement politician before there were pavements, Greaves was here to spell out his misgivings about almost everything.

Councillor Greaves is easily identifiable. With his large features and bushy beard he resembles a garden gnome on growth hormones. Fortunately the minor miracle of his simultaneous baldness and luxuriant long hair was made more explicable by the considerate placing of a wall-length mirror behind the speaker's table.

I would, I must admit, love to have Tony Greaves as my councillor. Very soon his vast energy, fantastic head for detail and phenomenally high boredom threshold, would sort out all those niggling problems that councils usually fail to deal with. So I am sure that his constituents revere him. I am also sure that they train their dogs to warn of his approach, so that they can hide in the garden.

For Tony is not easy-going. As his speech unfurled it transpired that he didn't want to get into bed with the media either. Or with the leadership of his own party (who failed to understand politics). Or with many of the members of his own party (who were fairweather folk).

This all went down famously with his audience. They were now the real lefties, not Labour. The leader of the Sheffield Lib-Dems predicted the mass defection of "radical, young, educated 20-year-olds in public sector jobs, living in council estates". But Tony Blair is not in competition for this tiny vote, which is why he makes his appeal to the inhabitants of those vast tracts of suburbia. The last thing he wants to find in his bed is Greavsey and company. This makes some Lib-Dems into reverse stalkers - following others around, constantly pestering them by saying how much they don't love them, and how they are determined not to have their babies. It's all a bit sad.