Lib Dem conference diary: mugs for mementos


Liberal Democrat conference delegates gave Charles Kennedy a two-minute standing ovation on Tuesday after watching an affectionate video tribute to their former leader, who died in June.

Much was made of his precocious talent when first elected a Social Democratic party MP at just 23 (“He was a tonic to the group”, ex-MP Ian Wrigglesworth told delegates) and of his opposition to the Iraq war 20 years later. Once he made up his mind, Kennedy was steadfast, but before doing so he privately dithered about that fateful decision.

Sir Menzies “Ming” Campbell, Kennedy’s successor who is soon to be Lord Menzies, hobbled into Bournemouth with his new right hip. The former Olympic sprinter is not in training for Rio because he is waiting for a new left hip to go with it. His fiercely devoted wife, Elsbeth, was not in attendance. She won’t attend events that ban smoking, Ming told colleagues.

The exhibition halls in Bournemouth’s unlovely conference centre are eerily quiet. Commercial sponsors desert a party as soon as power slips away. The government of Gibraltar stand remains faithful, but the CBI has jumped ship. This year it’s heading to the Scottish National party conference instead.

So precious are the Lib Dems surviving eight MPs that someone has designed a mug with each of their mugs on for delegates to buy so they can remember their names. No surprise that Clegg mugs sold out quickly (ahead of Farron mugs); a complete mystery why those sporting obscure Southport MP, John Pugh, a philosopher by trade, did the same. So did those in honour of Alistair Carmichael, who will not be MP for Orkney and Shetland much longer if SNP tormentors manage to unseat him (they won’t) over his role in publishing an SNP-damaging memo. Unlike the MP, the Carmichael mug does not leak.

Freed from coalition solidarity by the voters’ verdict, ex-Lib Dem ministers have inevitably been telling their war stories in Bournemouth, about how they thwarted the wicked Tories. Ex-energy secretary, Ed Davey, told a fringe meeting how he stopped them lifting the ban on flammable nighties and how he fought to get the living wage for his department’s contract cleaners. On the same platform, Tory sage, Tim Montgomery, said “Well done, Ed. You were only two years after Iain Duncan Smith.”

Paddy Ashdown can barely see the English Channel at Bournemouth. As a young Royal Marine officer he used to do parachute training hereabouts and hated jumps. He would also swim ashore from submarines at night to reconnoitre a “hostile” beach, dressed in black from head to toe like the man in the Cadbury’s Milk Tray advert. In reality, the only enemy Cap’n Paddy encountered on the beach were courting couples getting to know each other.

Powered by article was written by Michael White, for on Tuesday 22nd September 2015 18.23 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010