Lib Dems gather for spring conference amid controversy

Tim Farron, MP: "This shows how resilient we are"

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Liberal Democrats are gathering in Brighton for their spring conference during troubled times for the party.

Lib Dem president Tim Farron has said the party is in a "critical state" and its survival is not guaranteed.

Former cabinet minister Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce are to be sentenced on Monday for perverting the course of justice.

Leader Nick Clegg also faces questions over his handling of claims against ex-Lib Dem chief executive Lord Rennard.

Mr Clegg is expected to tackle the issue at a rally later to mark International Women's Day.

Arriving at the conference, he said Lib Dems were "in good spirits".


The party has appointed businesswoman Helena Morrissey to head an independent inquiry into how it handled harassment complaints in the past.

It is one of two investigations triggered by allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Lord Rennard - which the peer denies.


The words "cockroaches" and "nutters" are rarely, if ever, seen as compliments.

But that's exactly how the Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron has described his MPs and activists.

And, yes, he does mean it as a positive. Cockroaches surviving after a nuclear war, activists who only survive by campaigning like nutters because there is no such thing as a safe Lib Dem seat, he argues.

Mr Farron is known as an energetic action man and this is a plea to avoid complacency after the party's success at the Eastleigh by election.

That by-election result will lift morale at the spring conference in Brighton.

But the likely big talking points there aren't exactly ideal.

The rows involving the former chief executive, Lord Rennard, and the former cabinet minister, Chris Huhne, could arguably have happened in any party.

But they happened in the Liberal Democrats and so they have to deal with the awkwardness of it.

Much, much bigger than the Rennard and Huhne business though is the party's appeal to voters at the forthcoming local, European and then general elections.

The conference comes a week after the Lib Dems managed to hold on to Huhne's former seat of Eastleigh, Hampshire, in a by-election.

Mr Farron, in an interview with The House Magazine, likened the party to a "cockroach" for its ability to survive but said this should not be taken for granted.

Meanwhile, senior figures in the party are facing questions about when they knew of allegations that Pryce had taken speeding points on her husband's behalf.

Pryce will be sentenced along with her ex-husband on Monday. He pleaded guilty to the same charge.

The Lib Dems tasted victory in the Eastleigh by-election last week when they held the seat but with a reduced share of the vote, ahead of the UK Independence Party.

Mr Clegg said Lib Dem candidate Mike Thornton had pulled off a "stunning victory" which had been secured "against the odds".

The by-election was called after Huhne resigned as an MP following his admission he had perverted the course of justice over the driving licence points.

Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this showed that "rumours of our demise are grossly exaggerated".

However, national opinion poll ratings continue to hover around the 10% mark.

Ms Morrissey, the chief executive of Newton Investment Management, to look at the party's culture and processes, its attitude towards women and the employment relationship between staff, elected officials and volunteers.

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