Liberal Democrat Conference Diary: No RSVPs needed for this select bunch of absentees


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Indy Politics

As the Liberal Democrats meet for what could be their last annual conference as a party of government, it is perhaps a time to remember absent ex-comrades. There is no sign of Lord Oakeshott, Vince Cable’s old chum, who left the party this year after being accused of plotting to oust Nick Clegg.

Someone very close to Cable was asked whether Oakeshott had helped write his conference speech, as in previous years, and replied: “Matthew Oakeshott’s had absolutely nothing to do with this speech. I don’t expect them [Cable and Oakeshott] to speak in the foreseeable future.”

No one here mentions Mike Hancock, who has been a major figure in local politics in Portsmouth for about 40 years, and is still an MP for that city, but is not listed in the official Reports to Conference booklet as one of the party’s MPs, having parted company with the Lib Dems after he admitted sexually harassing a vulnerable constituent.

And no sighting, yet, of Lord Rennard, for so long a linchpin of the party organisation  – although there is a section of the conference booklet that could have been written with him in mind. It warns: “As a member you have the right to be treated fairly, equally, and within the bounds of party rules. You also have the responsibility to behave in a way that does not negatively impact other members…”

Harsh reality intrudes

The closed atmosphere of the party conference season suddenly collided with real life on Sunday, when Jonathan Fryer, a man well into middle age, took to the rostrum during the debate on tackling child abuse to describe his own “stolen childhood”. It included times when he thought or pretended that he had vacated his own body, as his only way of escaping what was being done to him.

He tried to explain to a doctor why he was unhappy in the family home in which he had been placed, but instead of asking why, the doctor exclaimed: “You wicked, ungrateful child!”

By the end of his speech, Mr Fryer was tearful. So were some of those listening.

Hacked off

It was coincidence that Evan Harris, the former Lib Dem MP turned Hacked Off activist, should be leading a call for journalists to be protected by law from having to reveal their sources, on the very day that a case in point was all over the front page of the Mail on Sunday.

Kent Police, called in to investigate the Chris Huhne speeding points case, used anti-terrorism law to gain access to the newspaper’s phone records to find whether or not it had been tipped off by the police. In fact, its information came from a freelance journalist, Andrew Alderson. So the investigation was a waste of police time, as well as being a bizarre use of anti-terrorism laws, and for once has put Evan Harris and a tabloid newspaper on the same side of an argument.