On the eve of the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, former party leader Nick Clegg is due to publish the memoirs of his time in government, Between the Extremes. It seems appropriate.
Search for relevance
The coalition might be consigned to history, but its aftereffects are still being felt by the Lib Dems. They are a pro-EU party in a country leaving the EU; a pro-immigration party in a world debating how to tackle immigration; all in a political era that is not being dominated by steady-handed centrists, but increasingly by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump.
The Lib Dems are still struggling to find their place in this new world. Current party leader, Tim Farron (pictured), has only made limited inroads in the media and a year after leaving government their position in opinion polls looks, at best, flat.
Cheers for peers
As party members arrive in Brighton, the mood will be reflective, not just out of sorrow for their party, but for a country that has shifted away from their brand of politics. It will feel a world away from the buzz and the freneticism they had when they were in government just two years ago.
However, the Lib Dems do have reasons to be optimistic. Farron, elected in July 2015, is the longest-serving of the major UK-wide party leaders, a nearly unparalleled level of stability in modern politics. The Lib Dems’ membership is also quietly growing again, with 17,000 new members since the EU referendum, and while they only have eight MPs, they still have 105 Lords – more than one in eight peers is a Lib Dem.
The party still has policymaking clout, and unlike the other major UK-wide parties, the Lib Dems also still make policy at their annual conference. There are sessions to discuss business ethics and tax evasion, extending corporate reporting on environmental issues, alongside the UK’s future relationship with the EU. These conclusions will create mandates that politicians present will take into parliament. However, unlike in the heady days of having Steve Webb as pensions minister, policy discussions of direct relevance to advisers are likely to be minimal.
They might feel like a party that is now banished to the periphery of politics, but the Lib Dems have never lacked ambition. With Labour tearing itself apart and the Greens recently losing control of their flagship administration – none other than Brighton Council – the Lib Dems are already calling this the ‘fightback’.
This piece originally appeared in New Model Adviser.