Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Dead Parrot policy document

The Party conference comes to Liverpool this weekend and on Friday evening the Liberal History Group is holding a meeting on the merger process between the Liberals and bits of the old SDP. These were painful times and I'm pleased I had no part to play in the formal constitutional negotiations. I was involve, as a member of the Party's Policy Committee, in the debacle over the so called joint policy document. I can't go on Friday evening because I'm already committed back in Birkdale so I thought this was the occasion to lay down my memories.
It had been agreed that along side the proposals for a joint party there would be a joint policy statement. David Steel took on this matter and despite various attempts to get it agreed in advance by the party's democratic structures-chiefly the policy committee, he wouldn't let go. All of which was ominous as Steel had never shown a great deal of interest in detail policy making. Rumours swirled around that it was to be written by two bright young things from Bob McClenan's office-I think I even heard Danny Finklestien's name mentioned. At some stage over Christmas Archy Kirkwood was meant to get a sight of it but for some reason he didn't. Our anxiety increased. In the end the concession was that we would get to read it prior to publication. I remember getting the train early from Liverpool in order to see it before the policy committee met at 6 o'clock. We had to read it in a committee room of the House of Lords and weren't meant to copy it. I recall that I sat next to Mark Bonham Carter who was clearly as unhappy as I was. In the meeting, with Steel there, some people were trying to put an upbeat interpretation on it suggesting that a bit of tweeking here and there would sort it out. That was not my view. he documents fate was decided when Nancy Seear weighed in. 'This' she said-dangling the document by a corner as if it were a dirty pair of knickers-'this is a Beta minus piece of writing' Well that was that. The next lunch time Roger Hayes from Kingston was on the World at One performing the funeral rites.
Interestingly I was in Broadhurst's book shop yesterday and saw Ming Campbell's autobiography. Leafing through it I came across the passage when Ming recalled the parliamentary party meeting the following day. Apparently the MP's were also clearly against the document. He says it was the only time he saw Steel with a tear in his eye and that during the hardest part Nancy put her hand on Steel to support/comfort him.