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The Lib Dems need to catch up!

simon06aSo, here we go! The last major party conferences before the next General Election writes OBV Director Simon Woolley. The Liberal Democrats are the first to begin having chosen the sun kissed English Riviera: Bournemouth, to have their political jamboree.

For the Liberal Democrats this conference is without doubt their most important for many generations. Simply put, if they can capture the nations desire for change that translates to more than just getting rid of the Labour party they could hold the balance of power in British politics. And as such they would be in a position to force through a radical agenda that would include scrapping the present voting system and replacing it with proportional representation; dumping the nuclear deterrent Trident; and driving through what the Party would call a radical social justice agenda.

If on the other hand they fail to effectively challenge the major two parties the electorate may feel in spite of the seismic economic downturn and the desire to do thinks politically different the Liberal Democrats are not a party able to run the country. This failure could position them as ‘also rans’ for another generation.

Key to the party’ success will be a breakthrough in urban or inner city areas. Of their 63 seats 80% are outside big city areas. In many respects this means the ability to capture the Black vote, which has been a particular Achilles heal for the Liberal Democrats-becomes a crucial area for their success.

On Sunday I attended two meetings around this area that in many ways highlighted the party’s problem: In spite of their leader Nick Clegg’s own personal conviction about what the party should look like, he has not demanded that the lack of representation should be national party major priority.

So the first fringe meeting, ‘a more representative party’, was attended by about 15 delegates. 13 of whom were of African, Caribbean, Asian, Turkish or Chinese decent, which meant that preaching to the converted became a somewhat understatement.

The second a reception for the New Generation of BME candidates was much better attended but not spectacularly so given that the Clegg was in attendance. He gave a passionate appeal that the party must change, and that steps were afoot that those changes would take place in the medium and long term.

But I pointed out to him and the audience that for the party’s credibility and their attempt to make this historic political breakthrough they needed to tell Black voters that after the next general election their MPs will not be all white. Equality Commission chief Trevor Phillips who made an unscheduled contribution to the reception was not pulling his punches. ‘You are woefully behind the Conservatives on this issue. If you want change you have to change’.

Furthermore, not all responsibility can be placed upon Nick Clegg, the party’s federal system demands that regional and local bosses take responsibility for having a more inclusive party. Failure to do so will ensure the party remains a countryside party with few ambitions to nationally govern.

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