Andy McSmith's Lib Dem Conference Diary: 'Do I want to throw myself in the Clyde? Yes, I do'


What makes the Liberal Democrats so lovable is the style with which they make a mess of things. On Monday the unfortunate, no doubt hideously embarrassed press officer who let slip the advice note for MPs explaining how to reply to journalists’ questions about issues such as income tax and the so-called bedroom tax – and accidentally emailed it to a select list of political journalists – did not have to face the music in public. But the senior spinner who was dispatched to the press room to sort out the disaster did so with admirable good humour, remarking at the end: “Do I want to throw myself in the Clyde? Yes, I do.”

It was the day’s most embarrassing moment – and even managed to overshadow the moment when the Energy Secretary Ed Davey was being interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neil, and part of the conference backdrop collapsed on him live on air.

Don’t forget the islands: Cable’s Scottish faux pas

It would be wrong to blame the Liberal Democrats for a civil service cock-up, such as publishing a series of industrial strategy infographics, which included the locations of oil, gas and renewable energy industries, decorated with a map of the UK which left out Scotland’s Western and Northern Isles – but the guilty department was the Department for Business, headed by Vince Cable.

As reported on these pages, he was already having a difficult day at the party conference. The error was seized upon by the Scottish Nationalists, who gleefully noted that it coincides with a poll that shows the Liberal Democrats coming fifth in Scotland, behind the Greens.

False pretences: no Danish actresses involved

The Electoral Reform Society ought to be reported to the Advertising Standards Authority for the leaflet it distributed on Monday, advertising a fringe meeting headed “From Borgen to Britain: a how-to guide to coalition government”, adorned by a picture of Borgen’s star, Sidse Babett Knudsen.

Those who piled in for a glimpse of the gorgeous Danish actress were confronted with a panel of speakers whose only Scandinavian representative was a bald, bespectacled Swede named Magnus Wallera, a functionary employed in the Prime Minister’s office, whose talk was as flat as his skull was round.

What sounded the death knell for Mad Mel

It was a sad day for Daily Mail readers as Melanie Phillips signed off her last Monday column. I am told that what finally made the Daily Mail’s editor Paul Dacre decide to dispense with his most famous contributor was her appearance on BBC Question Time in June, when she announced that “Our interests lie in neutralising Iran” – and when the studio audience scoffed, she pointed at them with arm outstretched and exclaimed: “You laugh, you laugh! Neutralise Iran, and a British audience laughs! How trivial, how incredibly ignorant of you!”

My informant says: “People don’t think this is just Mel, they think it’s the Daily Mail: we can’t have people thinking the Daily Mail wants to nuke Iran.” Mel will keep writing: all she needs is an outlet that is less middle of the road.