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Liberal Democrats Spring Conference and health service reforms.

Shirley Williams will probably remember the times when the Conference Arrangements Committee, aided and abetted by the Compositing Committee, sought to remove any possibility of embarrassment to the Party leadership or difficulties for the Parliamentary Party, due to Party Conference passing or even debating contentious matters. It was, in part, this gagging of dissension, coupled with a number of other Party procedures, which prompted a number of us to campaign and work for changes to the Party structure and mechanisms and bring about a more democratic party. It could have been this campaign that ultimately led to Shirley, now Baroness, Williams together with initially, three of her colleagues to reach the view that the party leadership would always have a monopoly of wisdom and party activists should follow, lemming like, in whatever direction the Parliamentary party and leadership directed, party activists and delegates at Party conference could not be trusted to reach the "right" decisions on the major issues of the time. The 4 central players at that time, recognised that the days of staged conferences, MP's jobs for life, prostitution of principle in exchange for short term popularity were over and that they should regroup under a new banner. That did not last long either and each drifted off in different directions. It now seems that the Liberal Democrats Conference has been highjacked by the ghosts of past arrangements committees. The fear that the leadership and Parliamentary party have of reasoned debate has resulted in a motion of a diametrically opposite structure to the views of many of the delegates and membership. It is the fear of criticism and the "we know what is best" mind set which has resulted in a motion which the leadership consider to be of such a structure that delegates may well make speeches against the content, but in order to show unity, they will find it difficult to vote against. Consequently, the motion will be passed, the leadership will have won (albeit a Pyrrhic victory), and Shirley (now Baroness)  Williams, will no doubt smile and reflect on how it all might have been different. The loser's in this sorry tale are of course the rank and file members and supporters of the Liberal Democrats, the conference delegates, the credibility of the party conference idea and of course the British people. 


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