What do Liberal Democrats need from conference 2012?

The arrival of Nick Clegg's apology on tuition fees released on video earlier this week says everything about what the Liberal Democrat leader wants this year's conference to signify.

The last two conferences were about explaining to party delegates and voters why it was crucial to go into coalition and then, last year, why it was crucial to stay in it despite distinctly shabby local election results.

However, the tone already emerging for the 2012 event from key figures in the party and from the type of motions tabled for debate, is that this time it is about showing how the Lib Dems are not the Tories.

Mr Clegg is hoping that by drawing a line under the tuition fees debacle his party can move on from the u-turn and concentrate on differentiating itself from the Conservatives; like with its plan later today to call on the government to deliver an elected House of Lords by 2015.

It was of course the Lib Dem plan to introduce just that reform that Conservative backbenchers sabotaged in the House of Commons earlier this year.


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But do not be fooled into thinking Lib Dem conference is just an internal political party shindig, taking place in a distant south coast city with little to do with Norfolk - some of the key areas that will generate headlines this week directly affect East Anglia.

As reported in the Eastern Daily Press this week, on Tuesday the party will vote on a motion in a bid to prevent the government implementing any broad system of regional or locally negotiated pay in the public sector.

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In the East of England such a policy might see state workers receiving wage cuts of between 10pc and 15pc according to one study. Opposing it is an overt challenge to the Conservative chancellor George Osborne, who first promoted the idea in his ill-fated budget in March.

Then there is renewable energy. Business leaders in Norfolk and Suffolk have been pushing the government to be clearer about how much they will subsidise wind power.

Firms in the two counties see themselves as leaders in green technology. So if these subsidies do not come through at the right level, it is possible economic growth in East Anglia's green sector may be stymied.

Norwich South MP Simon Wright said: 'This is a fundamental issue for our local economy in Norfolk, but also for our next generation; it is important that we invest in environmentally friendly technology now.'

It is no coincidence again that the main offender in holding subsidies back, according to the Lib Dem line of thinking, is Mr Osborne.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey will likely make clear at the conference that he intends to push the Treasury to financially commit to green energy to a greater degree.

Mr Wright continued: 'I want to see Ed Davey's strength. I know that he can be a strong performer; we have seen that in his previous ministerial roles in the past - he can really speak up.

'Chris Huhne his Lib Dem predecessor at the Department for Energy and Climate Change was identified as someone that challenged the Treasury on environmental issues, and I certainly believe that Ed will be continuing in that vein.'

Meanwhile the party will make much of the coalition's move to raise the income tax threshold, something which by 2014 will have seen 100,000 people across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire lifted out of paying any income tax.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb explained: 'The conference needs to demonstrate what we can bring to the table and why it's important to have Liberal Democrats in government.

'But it also demonstrates that we have been disciplined in government and that we are up to the task; it has been a tough transition but we have been remarkably disciplined.'

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