Andy McSmith's Diary: Free school meals for all – just don’t tell Mr President...

Our man in Glasgow

It was a great idea from Nick Clegg’s office to use the Lib Dem conference to announce free school meals for primary school children, but it’s a shame that they did not tip off the party’s elected President, Simon Hughes, in time.

Not long ago, Hughes was slagging off his local Labour council for its wastefulness – in providing free school meals.

“They’re spending £15m giving free school meals, some of this going to the borough’s richest families...Labour-run Southwark Council can’t get the basics right,” thundered one leaflet, signed by Mr Hughes in person.

He told me: “We had taken the view collectively in Southwark that in certain circumstances this wasn’t the priority and the money should go on other things. As it happens, in recent weeks when we were drawing up our manifesto, we revised this view. We came to the view that the policy was accepted in Southwark and we shouldn’t reverse it – before Nick Clegg made his policy announcement.”

The Lib Dems’ living Dolly

Just before Nick Clegg’s big speech that brought the Lib Dem conference to a climax, the Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael took to the stage bizarrely accompanied by the Dolly Parton hit “Nine To Five”.

He then described Tessa Munt, Lib Dem MP for Wells, as “our own Dolly Parton”. What did that mean? Did he mean: “Why’d You Come In Here Looking Like That”, or what?

Lord of the manners...

I am late coming to this, but Paddy Ashdown, the man who led the Liberal Democrats out of the wilderness in the 1990s, is interviewed in the magazine Total Politics. How well do he and Nick Clegg work together, the interviewer asked. His reply: “Mind your own business.” No wonder they made this man a lord.

Party conference poopers

Numerous BBC political interviewers and journalists who used to be seen at the big party conferences are absent this year, as they were last year. They include all of the regional political editors and most of the presenters.

It is a cost-saving exercise which has had a remarkable impact on the BBC’s budget, saving £500,000 a year. So far they’ve saved one deputy director general’s redundancy payment.

The tweet sound of success

At last – a poll that puts the Lib Dems ahead of the two main parties.

It comes from Twitter, who point out that 42 out of 55 Lib Dem MPs, or 76 per cent, have Twitter accounts, compared with 72 per cent of Labour MPs and a paltry 60 per cent of Tories. So good we booked it twice

Having filled the Glasgow Exhibition Centre this year, the Liberal Democrats will be back in the same venue next autumn. That was not as originally planned.

They were going to hold their conference at the usual time, in mid-September, in Liverpool, but 18 September 2014 is to be the date of the Scottish referendum. Rather than clash with that, the Lib Dems decided to delay their conference by three weeks, but the Liverpool venue was filled, so Glasgow it is.

If the Tories did unions...

Away from Glasgow, union bosses have been attacked so often by the Conservatives for allegedly representing no-one but themselves that you can understand the pleasure they took in today’s revelation on the ConservativeHome website that Tory party membership now stands at 134,000.

If the Tories were a trade union, they would be the ninth biggest TUC affiliate, behind the post office workers union, the 204,000 strong CWU. The same could be said of the Labour Party, with 187,537 members.

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