Andy McSmith's Lib Dem Conference Diary: Take note - one item that won’t be saved for the nation


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The famous note that the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne, left behind as the Labour government packed up in 2010 is not going to be bequeathed to the nation. Byrne assumed that he was handing over to his former Tory shadow, Phil Hammond, whom he knew well enough to write him a jokey memo saying: “Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid that there is no money.”

He had not counted on the Tories going into coalition and the note being picked up by the Lib Dem Chief Secretary, David Laws, who went public with it, to Byrne’s lasting chagrin. The note has acquired such lasting notoriety that I see from an interview in the House magazine that the National Archive has asked Laws if they can have it for their collection. The interview did not say whether he had handed it over. He tells me he is not going to. “It’s too much of a Laws memorabilia,” he said. “They’ll get a photocopy, maybe.”

Figures that won’t add up

I noted today that all mention of Lembit Opik, who was the Lib Dem member for Montgomeryshire for 13 years, has been exorcised from the local party’s website, but it is still impossible to keep him down. His latest piece of mischief is to hark back to a pledge made by Nick Clegg in 2008.

“For clarification, Clegg’s commitment as leader is to double the number of MPs compared to 2008. He’ll be judged by his own target,” he tweeted. In 2008, there were 62 Lib Dem MPs. Now there are 57. Will there be 124 after the next election? I don’t think so.

And the wooden spoon goes to...

The website Lib Dem Voice has polled 735 party members to find out how their ministers are rated by the activists. At the top of the poll is Pensions minister Steve Webb. You have to scroll quite a bit further down to find out who came last. Two ministers – Dan Rogerson and Baroness Randerson – were close to the bottom, basically because no one has heard of them. But even they did better that the man at the very bottom, who cannot plead anonymity. It was Nick Clegg.

Who pays the bill?

Away from Glasgow, the argument rumbles on over who will pay the legal bill Portsmouth Council ran up when they hired a QC to look into an allegation that Mike Hancock had sexually harassed a vulnerable constituent. Hancock was at that time both the Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South, and a long-serving Lib Dem councillor, and was denying the woman’s story. He has since admitted inappropriate behaviour, and has lost his seat on the council, and severed his connection with the Lib Dems.

The Tories who control Portsmouth council say that he could have saved the cost of an investigation if he had owned up in the first place, so he should pay the £38,000 legal bill. But Hancock, who is still an MP, has told the Portsmouth News: “It’s a political game they’re playing. I’m sure they haven’t got the legal right. I’m not paying.”