In what I HOPE will become a tradition, I have arranged for the nonimees for the Liberal Democrat Blogger of the Year (and, apparently, THAT PINK DOG) to join me for an interview with the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Mr Nick Clogg.
We have had incredibly super support from the Party Leader, last year from Sir Mr the Merciless and this year Mr Clogg, who has generously found fifty minutes in what is a PACKED week for him to talk to Top Lib Dem Bloggers. And that Pink Dog.
So I was joined by nonimees Ms Steph Ashley and Mr Neil Stockley and My Daddy Alex, along with Ms Helen as assistant to a certain crimson canine. Unfortunately Mr Jonathan Bonkers and Citizen Alix were unable to join us, but Ms Steph WAS able to ask a question that we hope Ms Alix would approve of.
Before that, though, we opened with me offering MR Clogg our FLUFFY CONGRATULATIONS, and asking: "are you very happy?"
He says yes! Of course it's not actually happened yet and he just hopes, like any prospective parent, that the pregnancy goes well.
It is, he says, very very exciting. Of course it's madness, he confesses, they are going to be just utterly exhausted, both working and with three young children. But it will be wonderful.
That is a situation lots of young families can sympathise with, which lead into my first question: now that the Labour have so OBVIOUSLY and PAINFULLY abrogated the role, how do WE convince people that we are the party to stick up for, well, everyone but let us say the common person?
"I think," Mr Clogg began, "we do that by first identifying what it is that is harming people, bothering people, holding people back, listen to those concerns, develop the policies that provide answers and then go out and campaigning on them.
"What I like to think is that by the end of this conference and certainly in my speech on Wednesday though I haven't finished writing it yet, is a sort of "gritty" feel and tone to this week.
"And I think that's right because a looming recession changes everything, it changes the political mood utterly and it makes the public – quite rightly – more demanding of politicians and more unforgiving of politicians who don't answer straight and don't provide clear solutions."
Liberal Democrats, says Mr Clogg, ARE the party with those straight answers and clear, practical solutions, and he listed out the key areas where we are doing all the work in being ready to face recession.
Housing: we're the only party with a clear plan to allow local councils to borrow against assets, to buy up unsold properties to provide more social housing to vulnerable families
Fuel poverty: it something he's probably spoken out about more than any other subject since becoming leader; it was the first thing he talked about at my first Prime Monster's questions, it was the last thing he asked about before they broke up for summer recess, saying that the energy companies should recycle their multi-billion pound subsidy
Education and Health: the work that Mr Norman Lamb and Mr David Laws are doing about targeting resources much more effectively towards those people who need it most, the Pupil Premium targeting resources to the most hard-to-teach vulnerable children; the Patient Premium that he talked about in a speech earlier this week; changing the incentives for GPs so that doctors have an incentive to work in the most deprived areas.
And, crucially, tax and spend: we say loud and clear firstly that we ALREADY have the fairest, most redistributive tax policies of any Party in Britain, pound-for-pound twice as redistributive as our 2005 manifesto, closing huge loopholes worth billions of pounds that only the wealthy benefit from, handing that back to the vast majority of lower and middle-income taxpayers. But then now going further and saying that at a time in which millions of British families are having to tighten their belts, a bloated centralised government should have to tighten its belt too. The money that we can identify in that exercise – we're aiming at around twenty billion – obviously should first go on our spending priorities – care for the elderly, pupil premium, housing and so on – but if there's money to spare we're not simply going to give it to Mr Frown. We're going to say that people on low and middle incomes should have a claim on that money. It's their money.
To put it in very human terms: if you are a young couple, both working, on low incomes, you're worried about finding the money for school uniforms for the new year, worried about the cost of food, worried about whether you'll be able to take your family on holiday this year. I think if you're given a choice between having a bit of your own money back in these very difficult times to look after yourself and your family OR that money should just go back into the black hole of the Treasury… it's a no-brainer!
We've always, as a Liberal Party, got to be on the side of PEOPLE. The mood is really, really turning. We have always been trenchant critics of over-centralised, unaccountable, inefficient centralised government, and that is a VALUE that is very much in line with what a lot of people think as they head into a recession, as they see this extraordinary doubling of public expenditure over the last ten years under the Labour.
Now there is LOTS more to follow… but just for now I must rush off to interview Mr Lembit!