Alas I am not able to get to Birmingham for the Liberal Democrat conference this year. I suspect that the party will rally round, but I notice the venom of the Mail and the Telegraph is already rising- the slightest thing that they consider likely to make the Lib Dems unpopular, from set decoration to tattoos is highlighted, while the body of good policy making and good speakers will- of course- be ignored. The vituperation coming from the right wing press is almost an affirmation: it underlines the new power that the party now has. Nevertheless, there are many things that, if they are not addressed at this conference, will need to be addressed soon. Tavish Scott's comments on Nick Clegg, while reflective of a certain personal bitterness are not completely wide of the mark. The leadership can, and will, get away without much criticism at this conference, but it does not mean that such criticism is unmerited.
While Tim Farron made a good speech, there are many points that he made that I- for one- profoundly disagree with. I do not, and never have, accept the left/right labeling of Liberalism. In my view we must do more to convey the clarity of our ideology, because by accepting the paradigm of left/right without also explaining our anti authoritarianism, then the hostile press can continue to portray the party as merely a chameleon- not matter that we are far more wedded to our ideology than our political rivals are to theirs. I also believe that the political tactics behind supporting a 50% income tax rate may become a similar problem to the failures over tuition fees. I would far rather support a land tax than a higher rate income tax, and if it becomes- as it may- a choice between them, then this could end up as "a humiliating climb down". That aside, I expect my many friends in the conference hall will enjoy themselves.
Yet beyond the conference hall, the storm in the financial markets is on the brink of becoming a hurricane.
The conference call this morning of the Greek government with the Eurozone main leaders is being marketed as a critical point. In fact the point of no return is already upon us. The failure of leadership in Germany is palpable, and the electorate are minded to punish the governing coalition: the meltdown of the FDP in Berlin is a horrible warning. The fact is that the political leadership in Europe still does not have an answer to the crisis.
This could be the week where the crisis provides its own answers- and they may not be ones that politicians can control. The market capitulation seems to be a matter of a few trading days away.