As it happened: Monday at the Lib Dem conference 2012

Key Points

  • The Liberal Democrat conference is taking place in Brighton
  • Business Secretary Vince Cable announced new business bank
  • Danny Alexander praised the coalition's record in a Q&A session
  • Delegates debated reducing 30mph speed limits to 20mph in England
  • Away from Brighton pressure continued on Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell
  • Sir Menzies Campbell said Mr Mitchell's apology failed to end the row

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    Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the Liberal Democrat conference 2012 in Brighton.


    It's been a busy morning already with Nick Clegg doing the rounds on BBC Breakfast and BBC radio. But the row over Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell's outburst at a policeman last week is still dominating the political agenda at the moment.


    In the conference hall, delegates are discussing a motion on science and research.


    Highlights from today's agenda include a speech from Business Secretary Vince Cable at 12.20pm. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander hosts a Q&A on the coalition's record in office, at 3.30pm. There will also be debates on employee ownerships, growth and jobs, sustainable prosperity and party membership fees.


    Mr Cable is expected to announce that the government is to put £1bn into setting up a bank designed to boost lending to businesses.


    BBC business editor Robert Peston has analysed the scheme. "This is an attempt at serious structural financial reform to provide longer term, stable loans to smaller businesses, not a quick fix. The bank will take at least 18 months to get going, so will do nothing to tackle the current perceived shortage of loans for smaller businesses," he said.


    Former Lib Dem Leader Sir Menzies Campbell has said Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell's apology has failed to shut down the row over his outburst at a policeman. He said: "We have got into a curious position - he's not yet able to say unequivocally what he did and didn't say... This story still has legs."


    Meanwhile, Labour is stepping up its attack on Mr Mitchell. Shadow policing minister David Hanson has described the chief whip's response as "simply not enough". "He still hasn't told us what happened or whether he called police officers 'plebs'," Mr Hanson complained, calling for a investigation by the cabinet secretary into the matter.


    But Deputy PM Nick Clegg suggested that Mr Mitchell has found redemption. "I think the fact that Andrew Mitchell has been as clear as he has that he is contrite about this, that he knows what he did was wrong, that he's apologised to the police officer, [who] has in return accepted the apology is important," he told BBC Radio 4.


    Dr Jenny Woods is wrapping up the current debate in the conference hall, which is on a motion calling for an increase in science funding. She says the policy is vital "to return health to the economy".


    "We aim to increase the ring-fenced science budget by 3% above inflation for 15 years, and will seek to arrange a cross-party consensus to deliver this over such a timescale," the motion said, which was carried unanimously. It also calls on the government to ensure that 'blue-skies' research continues to be well funded, in parallel to applied research, and that political interference in science funding decisions is avoided". Full details on the conference agenda (pdf).


    Next up, delegates will be discussing a policy paper on employee ownership.


    Martin Horwood, MP for Cheltenham, is on his feet to open the debate. He's a hit with one delegate, who has just taken a photo of him on her phone.


    Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert tweets: "My #scipolicy motion passed at #ldconf unanimously. Excellent news! Now the aim is to implement it."


    Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne, a Lib Dem, tells BBC News that Mr Mitchell's statement on his confrontation with Downing Street police leaves "loose ends to be tied up". But he says he does not want the saga to distract from the work of the Liberal Democrat conference.


    Life is imitating art, notes the Guardian's Paul Owen, as Vince Cable prepares to launch a state-backed business bank. "Saturday's episode of [BBC political satire] The Thick of It saw the show's Lib Dem surrogates - junior minister Fergus and his adviser Adam - bumble their way into accidentally agreeing to a pretty young female economist's proposal of a £2bn micro-bank."


    Extolling the virtues of employee-owned companies, Martin Horwood praises the "uncompromisingly democratic" John Lewis, which he described as a "successful business in a fiercely competitive free market, that has not lost its soul along the way".


    Mr Mitchell's apology appears not to have placated all senior police representatives. The chairman of the Met Police Federation, John Tully, has said he thinks the prime minister's office or the Cabinet Office should launch a formal investigation. And president-elect of the Police Superintendents Association Irene Curtis has called on the chief whip to clarify what he said or face a parliamentary inquiry to establish the truth.

    A Lib Dem delegate on stage The scene in the Lib Dem conference hall
    1034: Justin Parkinson Political reporter, BBC News, in Brighton

    Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander was asked at a fringe meeting whether he was getting "too close" to Tory Chancellor George Osborne. He replied that they had a "productive working relationship". They had a "lot of disagreements and arguments", but liked to keep them "private", he added.


    The BBC's Norman Smith tweets: Govt sources say Andrew Mitchell not directly denying "pleb" word because media then move on to other words he allegedly used.


    The conference slogan, "fair tax in tough times", is unlikely to provoke a mass outburst of chest-beating, fist-pumping or terrace chanting, writes the BBC's Gavin Stamp. It's also rather hard to agree on what fair taxes are, he adds.


    BBC political reporter Justin Parkinson, in Brighton: Some interesting amendments have been proposed for the debate on growth and jobs, starting at 11.05am. One welcomes a "change of direction" in the government's economic policy towards more intervention to help business. The other accuses Conservative Chancellor George Osborne of acting to "inhibit" growth in the renewable energy sector. It also removes the words in the original motion, calling on the government to stimulate growth as much as possible, while always remaining "within its fiscal mandate". That could provide quite an impetus to speakers on the left of the Lib Dems who want a change of policy. The debate could be a lively affair.


    Nick Clegg has denied claims he plans to "soak" the rich, after saying that those on incomes "well above" the average should pay their "fair share" to reduce the deficit. The Lib Dem leader said there needs to be a debate about future tax priorities as part of efforts to cut the deficit beyond the next general election, writes the BBC's Gavin Stamp.


    In the main hall, the debate on employee ownership and workplace democracy is drawing to a close - there'll be a vote on the motion shortly. The next topic for discussion will be on growth and jobs.


    Conference has overwhelmingly approved a motion to increase the number of of employees benefiting from ownership schemes. The motion also recommends a capital gains tax discount for business owners who transfer a significant stake in the business to employees.


    Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander is addressing the main hall on a motion on jobs and growth. He tells conference the government's "credible" economic plan has kept interest rates low.


    Danny Alexander says the coalition's priority is to return the UK to prosperity and rebalance the economy. "It has never been more important for our party and the coalition government to be focused on meeting that challenge," he says. He adds that it is taking the economy longer to recover from the financial crisis "than we had hoped" - cautioning that there is "no easy solution".

    Jo Swinson Jo Swinson reacts to a flattering name-check in Mr Alexander's speech

    Mr Alexander urges delegates to reject an amendment which equivocates on spending cuts. The coalition had not fallen prey to "small-state madness", he declares. Its plan "implies state spending of 42% of GDP - a figure higher than Labour ever managed between 1997 and 2008".

    Lib Dem conference hall A packed-out hall listens to Danny Alexander's speech

    The amendment to the main jobs and growth motion, tabled by Ed Randall, argues that "it would be a mistake to attribute record low public sector borrowing costs to accelerated fiscal consolidation rather than to a flight to relative safety".


    Back to the Andrew Mitchell saga, Lib Dem MP David Ward says the chief whip should lose his job if it is proven that he called Downing Street police "plebs" or used other abusive language toward them. "We need to find out the facts but if he said it, then on the bike - excuse the pun - on your bike and he's out," he told BBC News.


    From the BBC's Justin Parkinson, in Brighton: Cleggmania is back. The Lib Dem leader has already hit the download chart top 150 with the re-mix of his apology over tuition fees. Now mugs displaying his famous mea culpa have sold out at the party conference. Those wanting to hand over £6.95 for the coveted souvenir will have to wait until Friday. The stall owners are so, so sorry.

    Nick Clegg mug

    The gloves are off. Solihull MP Lorely Burt takes aim at shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who "helped run up the largest peacetime deficit in British history", she says. "He's not a man with a plan, he's a man without a clue."


    From the BBC's Justin Parkinson, in Brighton: Schools in the Brighton area have sent out warnings that winds of up to 70mph are expected between 4pm and 7pm. Parents are informed that gusts could "easily flip over beach huts".


    The entrepreneurial spirit puts in another apparition at the conference as more Clegg-apology memorabilia goes on sale:

    Lib Dem "I'm Sorry" memorabilia

    Tessa Munt, MP for Wells, says the country can't pretend there are no financial problems. "We cannot spend, spend, spend because we haven't saved, saved, saved," she says, blaming previous governments for Britain's economic woes.


    Meanwhile, former Lib Dem councillor and Labour secretary of state Andrew Adonis sought to dodge the blame for his late arrival at a fringe event, reports the BBC's Gavin Stamp. "Trains never left ahead of time when I was transport secretary," he reminded the assembled throng.


    Interventions are being taken in the main hall, allowing delegates the chance to speak to the motion on jobs and growth. Tim Farron MP says scrapping the "fiscal mandate", which commits the government to deficit-reduction, would be "absolutely flipping crackers". A "credible" deficit-reduction strategy "stands between us and market chaos", he adds, urging conference to reject a rebel amendment.


    The Metropolitan Police has confirmed that it is investigating how police records of the incident involving Andrew Mitchell were obtained by the Sun newspaper. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the prime minister says David Cameron "obviously accepts the statement" made by the chief whip. The spokesman said Mr Cameron had "full confidence" in his cabinet minister.


    "The lights went out and the room was plunged into darkness for five minutes," the BBC's Gavin Stamp says of the same ill-fated fringe event graced by a tardy Lord Adonis, which took place on Sunday. "There was a chorus of 'Tory cuts' from the audience before the moderator, Guardian journalist Michael White, pointed out that Brighton council is controlled by the Green Party."

    Senior Lib Dem figures Lib Dem luminaries applaud a colleague's speech

    The BBC's Tim Reid tweets: Jo Swinson urging delegates not to "undermine" coalition economic policy by "playing into Labour's hands.." #LDconf


    A big round of applause for Vince Cable who is on his feet in the main conference hall. The business secretary starts by reminding delegates of the beginning of a "terrible economic storm" that started with the collapse of Northern Rock five years ago. "It has left behind broken banks, lower living standards, ballooning budget deficits, job insecurity and a sense of permanent crisis," he says.


    Vince Cable praises his leader, Nick Clegg's, "considerable" political courage in making the coalition happen, telling conference that one of the party's main aims is to "show that coalitions work". He has some warm words for the five "very able" Conservative colleagues in his government department.


    He admits to "occasionally" lapsing into "party political tribal thinking" - before cracking a joke about being knocked off the top spot in a Daily Telegraph poll as the cabinet minister who Conservative activists most want to evict from the government, by two Conservative colleagues - prompting laughter around the hall.

    Vince Cable "Please Ed, not now!" Mr Cable jokingly refers to reports of his text-message contact with the Labour leader

    "We will ultimately be judged by the government's handling of the economic crisis," the business secretary tells the hall. He advocates an active industrial strategy but says this can only work if the finance is there to support business investment and growth. But he also accuses the UK's leading banks of being "often anti-business, especially anti-small business".


    Mr Cable confirms that he's working with the Chancellor, George Osborne, to put £1bn into setting up a bank to boost lending to small- and medium-sized firms. He talks of a move towards "responsible capitalism".


    Sam Coates over at the Times tweets: Vince Cable to LD conf: '(RBS) needs direction from us - we own it - to get up steam and lend more' - new policy on RBS or just empty words?


    The business secretary lists what the coalition has done to support British business. "We have seen off the 'head bangers' who want a hire-and-fire culture and seem to find sacking people an aphrodisiac," he declares.


    Addressing critics of the government's economic strategy, Vince Cable insists the coalition has "struck the right balance" on the pace and scale of cuts. "I make no apology for my continued support for that fiscal discipline."


    But there is still not enough spending power in the economy, Mr Cable says, and calls for an "aggressive" house building strategy which would create "half a million" new jobs.


    He pledges that the government will not let the country "get stuck on a downward escalator" where little or no growth leads to even further cuts. "There is still time to turn the economy around," the business secretary adds.


    In a dig at Labour and the Conservatives, Vince Cable says the Liberal Democrats are "not in hock to fat cats or union barons and media bosses". He says the Lib Dems remain willing to work with "other parties" in the national interest - predicting that the British public won't want to "entrust their future to any one party" at the next general election, due in 2015.


    "Jokes about social class are not good for coalition unity, but as a mere pleb, I couldn't resist it," Vince Cable quips.


    Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams tweets: Vince's advice to President Hollande - tax rich with a chateau tax. Let's keep up pressure for a mansion tax in the UK. #ldconf


    The business secretary wraps up his conference speech saying that after more than two years in government "we are battle hardened but certainly not war weary". "None of us knows exactly how it will end. But we all know we must fight the next general election as a totally independent, national, credible challenger for power."

    Neil Shillito, Norwich

    emails: Too little, too late. My company is in the fortunate position of not having to resort to bank lending. The announcement today is merely political without much substance.


    Meanwhile, the business secretary's Labour opponent Chuka Umunna has responded to the speech on Twitter: Cable says he won't allow a culture of "hire and fire". That is precisely what he is doing.

    Lib Dem ministers A strong show of support from Mr Cable's colleagues

    "A well-judged conference speech by Vince Cable, he resisted playing to the gallery as Gordon B used to do at Blair's expense," the Guardian's Michael White tweets.


    There is a break in the conference hall until 2.20pm. We'll be back with the live coverage then, plus news from fringe meetings taking place this lunchtime. You can catch all the latest analysis from 1pm to 1.45pm on BBC Radio 4's the World at One.


    Good afternoon, and welcome back to our live coverage of the Lib Dem conference in Brighton. Earlier today Business Secretary Vince Cable delivered his speech to delegates; the remainder of the morning session was dominated by debates on science funding, employee ownership and jobs and growth.


    More reaction to "gategate". Former Conservative MP Michael Brown has told BBC News that Andrew Mitchell's outburst at a policeman was "totally and utterly out of character". Mr Brown, who has know the chief whip for 25 years, claimed he was a "convenient pawn" in a wider dispute between police and the government over changes to pay and conditions.


    Speaking to BBC Local Radio, Nick Clegg insists he's got "fuel in the tank" to carry on as party leader "up to, through and beyond" the next general election. He says he understands "there are people in the party who are perhaps getting nervous" but he "doesn't believe in flinching when things get tough".


    Stay tuned for a Q&A on the coalition's record with Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, at 3.50pm - but before that delegates will be discussing "sustainable prosperity".


    After Nick Clegg's tuition-fee apology, the BBC's Daily Politics programme has conducted a less-than-scientific survey of whether Lib Dems can forgive their leader.


    It's Duncan Hames's turn to be snapped by an eager young delegate on the front row, camera in hand. The Chippenham MP has taken to the stage to open the first debate of the afternoon session. He's talking about sustainable jobs and innovation for future prosperity.

    Linda Jack A delegate calls for more help for small businesses facing financial difficulties

    From the BBC's Justin Parkinson, in Brighton: Lord Ashdown has been discussing his ongoing attraction at a fringe meeting organised by the Times newspaper. He appeared a little indignant when discussing a description of himself in the rival Guardian as a "strangely sexually alluring walnut". They cracked up at that one.


    Delegate William Hobhouse believes the answer to the UK's economic problems lies in rebuilding the country's manufacturing base, arguing that this will create jobs and growth. "Too much is imported," he laments, blaming the Thatcher and Blair governments for selling off factories and neglecting engineering and science.


    Mr Hobhouse adds: "Let's make the Liberal Democrats the party of manufacturing."

    David Grant, London

    emails: Whilst Government initiatives are welcome, it's the access to the cash that matters - and that's not going to happen at all until the UK banks apply less stringent qualifying criteria to their loan applications.


    Baroness Randerson - who became the first Liberal Democrat minister in the Wales Office during the recent reshuffle - is addressing the main hall on devolution. She warns that regional pay bargaining in the public sector could "entrench Wales as a low-pay economy".


    Former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown has admitted his party was "opportunistic" in pledging not to raise tuition fees before the last election, the BBC's Justin Parkinson reports.


    Lib Dem president Tim Farron tweets: Just off for a run to Hove and back! Then a packed afternoon of #ldconf fringes :) #libdems


    Delegate Matthew Price hails the conference policy paper on sustainable prosperity and jobs for taking on the "big issue" of bank regulation. There needs to be a greater diversity of local banks for a more resilient and stable economy, he argues.

    Nick Clegg Soaring oratory is not the only attraction at the conference: Nick Clegg takes a breather with a buzzer game

    Meanwhile, councillor Faith Ponsonby recalls conversations she has had with constituents in the ward of Havant, to paint a picture of the diffiiculties that young people are facing in employment. "We are failing a generation of young people," she warns.


    We're coming to the end of this debate - which will culminate in a vote on the policy paper, and any proposed amendments to it. Coming up, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander will take questions from conference delegates on the coalition's first two years in office.


    For a comprehensive list of the party's movers and shakers, take a look at the Telegraph's guide to "the 50 most influential Liberal Democrats".

    Nick Clegg mug "He got things done." Enterprising delegates hail the Lib Dem leader with a mug

    The main motion on sustainable prosperity has been passed by conference, with an amendment. Now it's time for the Q&A. Danny Alexander is on his feet, looking casual in an open neck shirt. He appears relaxed as he strolls around the stage speaking without notes.


    From the BBC's Gavin Stamp, in Brighton: Pensions minister Steve Webb says there has been a lot of "scaremongering" about the government's welfare reforms. He tells a fringe meeting that spending on the personal independence payment will be higher than on the benefit it is replacing - disability living allowance (DLA).


    Mr Webb argues that suggestions the government is taking a "slash and burn" approach to DLA are wrong, but he recognises that any changes do alarm people and he says they should be introduced gradually, Gavin Stamp adds.


    Mr Alexander attacks Labour's economic legacy. Whilst the economy is still fragile, he says, "in just two years we have reduced the deficit by a quarter". Listing the coalition's achievements, he promises that the Liberal Democrats will continue to push for a mansion tax, and to pursue the ambition that "no-one should pay any income tax until they earn more than minimum wage".


    Danny Alexander concedes that the party can't achieve everything it wants in government - such is the nature of coalition, he explains. But this will not dampen the commitment to pursuing Lib Dem goals, he adds.

    Nick Clegg Triumph for the Lib Dem leader, as Nick Clegg beats the buzzer game at a conference stall

    Back in the conference hall, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander says the government can't look like it's fighting over every issue every day. We're two different parties with two different ideas and values, but there is a middle way between the two positions, he says.


    Danny Alexander refuses to be drawn on how he rates his Conservative ministerial colleagues. "I can see why that would be interesting but maybe I'm a bit old-fashioned in this respect. It's not my way of doing things," he says.


    The BBC's Norman Smith tweets: I've been given an "I'm a Pleb!" badge by enterprising stall holder at #ldconf #chuffed #togaandsandals


    Perhaps the biggest round of applause of the session so far comes after a delegate says the Lib Dems "desperately" need to show they are different from the Conservatives and help to moderate the party in power.


    Mr Alexander says he believes the Liberal Democrats can fight the next election on the grounds the party is the "only economically credible and progressive party in British politics".


    The coalition has proven an "immensely strong and stable government" and it has shown it can take the necessary and difficult decisions necessary to protect the British economy, says Danny Alexander.


    That's the end of the Q&A on the coalition's record. Danny Alexander has left, and some delegates are following suit - although a good proportion seem to be staying on for the next item on the agenda, which is a debate on cutting speed limits to 20mph in residential areas in England.


    The motion says: "Lower speed limits will make streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists and car users alike, and will encourage more people to walk and cycle with consequential benefits for health and quality of life."


    Delegate Mark Valladares says the motion is "well-meaning, but flawed" because it imposes one solution on communities "regardless of their size... circumstance... [and] needs". He says amendment one will allow communities the freedom to develop their own solutions.


    Amendment one ditches the idea of national targets aiming to get 10% of roads each year down from 30mph to 20mph. Instead, councils should merely "give active consideration" to the idea, "in consultation with local residents", it says.


    Councillor Sue McGuire says "we need to make driving too fast socially unacceptable". She tells conference how she was left in a coma for 10 days, and lost her memory for three weeks, after a near-fatal road accident caused by a driver taking a bend too fast.


    The policy paper on cutting residential speed limits has the rather catchy headline, "20 is plenty".


    Delegates have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a policy paper to cut speed limits from 30mph to 20mph in residential areas. The final items on today's agenda all concern party business, including debates on the Report of the Federal Executive, and membership fees.


    The president of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, says the party's membership has taken a hit since taking office.


    It's fair to say that the Lib Dem conference has not dominated the news agenda today. But the Telegraph has followed up London Mayor Boris Johnson's 20 reasons to love Nick Clegg (he's a "natural Tory", apparently) with an interview with the Lib Dem leader. The Independent accuses Mr Clegg of assuming everyone has wealthy parents. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail seizes on Vince Cable's quip about Boris Johnson and David Cameron pillow fighting at Eton.


    And that's a wrap for today. Live coverage resumes at 9am tomorrow.


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