This blog is not necessarily one that takes a great amount of notice of the internal workings of our country’s political parties. However, as I listened to my daily dose of John Humphries and his Crazy crew this morning I heard that one of today’s ‘highlights’ at the conference would be a speech by the Liberal Democrat Local Government Minister Andrew Stunnell.
Unfortunately, I have to work during the day so caught up with his speech in the written form yesterday evening (you can do so too).
So where to begin?
Well, Mr Stunnell started with a joke and although it takes some explaining I assume everyone in the conference hall got it. Speaking about the coalition negotiations he said:
Newspapers full of the back stories of the four-man Liberal Democrat negotiation team of Danny Alexander, Chris Huhne and David Laws.
I’m not bitter.
The Guardian wouldn’t have spelt my name right anyway.
Funnily enough I can empathise with the Guardian on this one. We’ve written between five and ten posts about the DCLG over the past 18 months and do you know how many of them have involved Mr Stunnell? Well, the answer is none. Reading the rest of his speech I couldn’t work out whether this was a good thing or a bad thing.
Was it good that the Liberal Democrats only Minister in the DCLG had kept his head down and not joined in the Eric Pickles inspired local government baiting?
Or was it a sign of Liberal Democrat ineffectiveness that despite being in Government nothing changed?
Reading the speech one gets the sense that it is a combination of the two but with an emphasis on the latter. It seems that Mr Stunnell is happy to pick his poison and make a different in his small area and almost ignore the rest of what is going on in local government.
The Minister kept his speech entirely focused on just his area of expertise and ministerial responsibility; housing and ignored the rest of the agenda. What this meant was that once more we were denied a clear Liberal Democrat vision for Local Government (although we did get some positive words on the housing agenda).
I was surprised by this so had a quick flick through the agenda for the conference. Surely if Mr Stunnell, the Government’s local government representative in the coalition, has decided to keep a low profile in Government and stay away from tackling the attitude of Mr Pickles and his colleagues there would be a strong local government voice at the conference?
Despite the fact that local councillors probably make up the vast majority of the people at the conference the discussion of local government was restricted to a consultative session on local government finance and of course Mr Stunnell’s speech about housing.
Surely a few council leaders or the ever present Richard Kemp could have been invited to speak and lead some debates even if those in Westminster weren’t up for it?
So, what can we conclude from our first and very brief dalliance with party conference?
Firstly, Andrew Stunnell is content to be the quiet man making a difference in the housing portfolio but not making a difference within the rest of the DCLG. We’ll have to get used to the fact that this department is essentially a Tory beast.
Secondly, party conferences still do not consider local government to be a major part of their conference and/or policy agenda. This is despite local authorities delivering a very high percentage of public services and currently facing a larger than average in the public sector cut to their budgets.
Finally, the lib dem idea that will most define them in terms of local government looks like it will be local government finance.
Come to think of it maybe we were wrong and Mr Stunnell has just been saving his powder for a really large fight… Or maybe not!
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