Good morning. As a particularly geeky teenager, I spent more time than was strictly healthy at science fiction conventions. Since arriving at the Liberal Democrats’ party conference, I’ve been fighting back an unnerving sense of deja vu.
As with a science fiction convention, the show might not be as good as it once was, but there’s an excitement among attendees just to be alongside other people with strong opinions about the D’Hondt system of proportional representation. (“A family gathering” was the spin one Liberal Democrat put on it last night.) That, for the most part, explains the surprisingly cheerful atmosphere here in Glasgow.
At the top of the party, the mood is less sunny. The show is not only less popular than it was but appears to be flirting with cancellation. The bleak prospects for the party outlined in Lord Ashcroft’s polling and the collapse in its support among first-time voters (from 414,500 in 2010 to just 84,000 in 2015) are both, I’m told, echoed in the party’s private polling.
In the expectation of heavy losses, what one senior Liberal Democrat described as a “beauty pageant” is already underway. The new and improved Danny Alexander – glasses off, shirtsleeves rolled up, eyes glinting with suppressed ambition – unveiled yesterday is first off the bat.
Others are worried that the jostling for advantage will leave a series of unwanted commitments and red lines that will damage the party’s ability to negotiate a Coalition deal next May. These advocates of a “Coalition-ready” manifesto will feel further strengthened by our splash: “Cameron told: raise tax or no coalition” is the headline. Nick Clegg’s appearance on the Marr Show and Mr Alexander’s speech both committed the Liberal Democrats to raising taxes after the next election. “Vote Liberal and your taxes go up. No-one can say we’re not brave” was the glum verdict of one activist last night. Vince Cable is next up to bat arguing for “sanity and sense” in the immigration debate, which is sure to go down well in the hall. But I just wonder: vote Liberal for higher taxes and increased immigration. Perhaps they were better off with a dodgy bar chart.
BOMB FIRST, VOTE LATER
“Air strikes on Isis in Syria ‘not enough'” is the Guardian’s splash. Kurdish forces have joined the chorus of voices calling for boots on the ground to tackle Isil. US-led airstrikes have so far failed to halt the march of the terrorist organisation on Kobani, a key city on the Turkish border. But the parliamentary arithmetic for further action has been made more difficult after Nick Clegg signalled his opposition to UK support for air strikes in Syria, while former head of the army Lord Richards says that cuts to the armed forces must be reversed in order to defeat Isil, Steven Swinford reports.
LAMB: I WON’T LIE DOWN WITH YOU
“I’m afraid I don’t see Ed Miliband as a Prime Minister,” Norman Lamb told attendees to a CentreForum/Fabian Society fringe, Rowena Mason reports in the Guardian. Mr Lamb continued that supporting a Labour Party with fewer votes and more seats would receive “zero honeymoon” from the voters and be “enormously damaging” to the Liberal Democrats.
OH NHS, THOU ART SICK
“The NHS timebomb” is the Indy’s splash. “Who can save the NHS?” cries the i. “NHS needs billions for hospitals to meet rising patient demand” is the FT’s take. The Health Service is at “breaking point”, a coalition of the country’s leading doctors, nurses and charity bosses warn in a letter in today’s Indy. It’s partly due to an ageing population and the rising cost of new drugs, Sarah Neville explains in the FT.
60,000 children from poorer households a year are being failed by poor schooling, Alan Milburn, the government’s social mobility tsar, has warned. While there is still a strong link between a pupil’s background and their attainment, an additional 60,000 children would achieve five good GCSEs if all schools learnt lessons from those doing most to raise standards among poorer children. But polling for the commission has found a lack of will to break the cycle, with one in five teachers saying that some of their colleagues have lower expectations of children from deprived backgrounds, while half say they are put off by the prospect of working in a weaker school. John Bingham has the details.
DR FREUD, TAX INSPECTOR
HMRC is using psychologists to encourage people to pay their taxes, Danny Alexander revealed yesterday. “Nudge theory” suggests that small changes in language can result in altered patterns of behaviour, and it’s already led to an estimated £210 million uptick in revenues, Steven Swinford reports. “We know where you live, we know how much you owe, and now we know how you think,” Mr Alexander warned tax evaders.
Our cartoon is the work of Christian Adams; you can see his work on Instagram. You can get in touch with me by hitting “reply”, and via Twitter.
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