“So what’s new?” you’re probably thinking.
Well, the passing of the motion to condemn the Bedroom Tax as official Liberal Democrat policy indicates that there is a huge rift between the way grassroots Lib Dems think and what the Parliamentary Party is doing.
But is it enough to force a split in the Coa-lamity – sorry, Coalition – before the next election, as Vince Cable has hinted?
Who knows? It’s the Lib Dems.
It could indicate that time is running out for the ‘Orange Book’ Liberal Democrats, who include Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander among their number – despite claims by the Daily Telegraph that they have become more influential.
My brother, the blogger beastrabban, told me of a recent conversation between a friend of his and a former Liberal Democrat MP, in which the ex-Hon Gentleman made his opinion of the Orange Bookers – the party’s right-wingers – perfectly clear: “They’re not Liberal”.
This certainly seems to be the feeling of the party’s rank-and-file. Julie Porksen, the Northumbrian member who tabled the Bedroom Tax motion, said: “We are Liberal Democrats and we do not kick people when they are down.”
This may have come as quite a shock to Messrs Clegg, Alexander, David Laws (editor of the Orange Book) and their nearly-Tory buddies, who have been merrily kicking people when they were down ever since they decided they weren’t going to abolish student fees after all, but would help the Tories increase them instead.
Since then, Parliamentary Liberal Democrats have helped force some of the worst injustices of modern times onto the British people, including the Health and Social Care Act, the Welfare Reform Act, the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act, the Localism Act and, yes, the Bedroom Tax.
Nick Clegg is clearly a long, long way out of touch with his members. All he could say about it at conference was that “you would have to be made of granite” not to have feelings on the issue.
Would he commit to changing it? No.
So it seems the Liberal Democrat leader is refusing to carry out the will of his party. I wonder what they’re going to do about it?
One way Clegg could save his career might be to bring the Coalition to an early end, as suggested by Vince Cable at a fringe event arranged by the Independent.
But it seems likely Cable was just causing mischief. “It is obviously a very sensitive one. It has got to be led by the leader,” he said.
Again, this would put Clegg in a very awkward position. Splitting the Coalition means giving up the only power or influence he is ever likely to have.
At the end of the day, it’s not going to make much real difference. After the 2015 election his party will probably have fewer MPs than the DUP, if local election results are any indication. He must take responsibility for that – his leadership is bringing his party to the brink of oblivion.
But there’s another Liberal Democrat conference to come before the general election. Maybe, by then, Nick Clegg will have grasped that he needs to put his party’s best interests before his own ambitions.