A slice of Britain: Lib Dem guerrillas plot their next move

The Social Liberal Forum, which triggered the party's revolt against the NHS reforms, is made up of renegades with a mission. Matt Chorley joins the SLR at City University London

Who runs Britain? In the windowless lecture halls and Escher-esque stairwells of City University in London, a group of political renegades put down their cloth bags, scratched their facial hair and plotted their next assault.

Welcome to the first annual conference of the Social Liberal Forum – the home of "proper" Liberal Democrats. Not the quasi-Tory, Oxbridge-educated, Orange Bookers such as Nick Clegg, David Laws and Danny Alexander. It's the lefty lot who despise the Tories more than sandals in a downpour.

Its director, Mark Blackburn, insists they are not "anti-coalition", nor are they the nutty fringe of the party. "We are trying to make sure that mainstream liberal values continue to be shown in mainstream party policy." By mainstream he means social democratic.

The SLF was the driving force behind the Lib Dems' Sheffield conference motion that triggered the rewriting of the Government's NHS reforms. Next is banking, inequality, housing and tuition fees. They are ready to take on the Tories.

The beard count was moderate. A white goatee, a couple of ginger full facials and some youthful unshaven types. Key demographics were represented. Young tweeters watching their iPhone batteries drain. Spectacles on a chain. Crazy, unkempt hair. One character teamed bulbous black leather trousers with matching waistcoat, bleached hair, earring and a plastic carrier bag.

Two sympathetic ministers had been booked. When Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, arrived there was a smattering of applause as if a pub cricket team had scored a solid single. He insisted he had to be "remorselessly on message these days", but demanded responsible capitalism (bash rich bankers), curbing executive remuneration (pay cuts for the mega-rich) and progressive taxation (tax the rich).

Land and property was "fundamental" to a progressive tax system. Social mobility meant both the poor "going up" and people from privileged backgrounds "coming down". The audience liked that.

Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, loves winding up his coalition partners. Yesterday he had in his sights red-tape "zealots" who want to tear up all regulation, good or bad. A lack of regulation meant our roads get dug up 500 times a year by every utility firm in the land. He said the Government's Red Tape Challenge had "mistakenly" given the impression that key laws such as the Climate Change Act were to be scrapped. He said the Lib Dems had to find a place between Labour's "obsession with micro-management and target-setting" and the "fixation with deregulation and scrapping rules" of "right-wing ideologues".

Star turn was Evan Harris, a former doctor and Lib Dem MP who lost his seat last year and has been a menace for the party leadership ever since. He was here to claim "victory" in the battle to rewrite the NHS reforms. He dismissed last week's NHS Future Forum report as "cliché-ridden, trite nonsense" and held out the prospect of further revolts. Gulp.

It is easy to dismiss them all as irrelevant eccentrics. But who else would read the Health and Social Care Bill and spot the contradictions and dangerous consequences? The SLF are determined to make their voice heard (an endeavour hampered yesterday by flat batteries in the stage microphones). A man called Nigel Quenton claimed the Lib Dems were not getting their message on the environment across. Neville Farmer, from Wyre Forest, felt "hoodwinked" about health reform. A woman said public-private partnerships were "modern piracy". And the big policy issue of the day: "Could you turn the air conditioning down? It's like a fridge in here."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power