Take my personal experience as an example. On Saturday when I got to the ICC there were two armoured cars. Someone had told me that George Osbourne was at the conference so I immediately assumed that the cars were his. A few minutes later I realised that it was Nick Clegg's cars. Him being the Deputy Prime Minister. That is the paradox. We are in power now but sometimes the Lib Dems behave as if we are still a party in opposition. Thank goodness we aren't but even Nick Clegg seems to get it mixed up occasionally. Take this line from his closing Leader's speech
"We speak up first and loudest when the establishment lets people down.'
Isn't Government the biggest part of the establishment? Our slogan for this conference was 'In Government, on your side'. Slightly confusing. Maybe this is because Nick Clegg is still having to convince party members about the decision to go into coalition. This is a shame because valuable time is being spent explaining past decisions rather than looking forward.
"We proved something about ourselves last year, when we faced historic choice: whether or not to enter Government in coalition with the Conservatives."
We have always been the party that shouted in protest at the Government of the day and now we are the Government and are having to make decisions. I sensed this myself during debates and at fringe events that Lib Dems still feel a need to apologise for being with the Tories and have not reached the stage where we feel comfortable justifying the decision. This is a negative tactic.
The Tory bashing at conference was unhelpful because it took debates nowhere. Stalemate. We have to work with the Tories till 2015. Of course we need to stamp the Liberal Democrat personality on issues and causes but not by taking cheap shots otherwise electors will ask us why we stayed in coalition at all and for 5 years, at that, if the Tories were that bad.
When we face reelection our decisions will be challenged by voters on the grounds that they were made as part of a coalition. Lib Dems will have to be a strong party that can explain and justify everything we have done when the next election occurs in 2015. What will we need for this? Our local party base has always been the glue that holds us together. At the next election if we don't have enough grassroots support then we will be in big trouble.
"We do not serve and will never serve vested interests"
Localism is our vested interest. Traditionally we have been the party that operates at local authority level. This was our strength. Now I see a tension between the localism agenda and the centralism agenda. This was especially apparent to me during the debates on free schools and academies. Lib Dems are against anything that takes away power from local authorities but free schools actually give power to parents over choices in education.
Finally, I take great pride in having a strong stake in the party because of Nick Clegg saying the following:
"...Britain is our home. We will make it safe and strong. These are our children. We will tear down every barrier that they face..."
This is a party fighting for a better future for children and I will carry on feeling justified in writing about what affects children. That will be Libdemchild's voice in the party and personal manifesto.