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Wednesday 19th September 2012 | 16:22
Richard Reeves, Nick Clegg's former director of strategy, has chucked a rather large hand grenade into the Lib Dems preparations for conference.
Or rather hand grenades, plural.
In an attempt to be helpful that may well be seen as unhelpful by the DPM's team, Reeves has written a piece for the New Statesman that has some eye-catching news lines.
Speaking with the freedom and impatience of the demobbed (Reeves left this summer to live in Washington), Reeves says that the conference has to confront the question: Clegg or no Clegg?
He writes: "The real story of the conference is the party leadership. For four days and nights the question in the sea air will be: Clegg or no Clegg?"
Conspiracy theorists may say this is a canny attempt to get the activists to face the 'back me or sack me' question, in the full knowledge that the answer will be 'we back you'. But I suspect the party doesn't really want to turn its conference into a navel-gazing exercise on the suitability of its leader.
He is Deputy Prime Minister after all. And would prefer to see conference as a chance to tell the public of how the Lib Dems are delivering on Lib Dem policy in power.
At the heart of Reeves' essay is a clarion call for his old boss to follow the 'let Barlett be Barlett' mantra: stop trimming, be yourself.
This means being a true 'liberal'. But more than a few papers may seize on one of Reeves' prescriptions: legalising the possession of cannabis and ecstasy.
*says Clegg should have stuck to his guns on 'bigotgate'
*attacks the 'tell Dave everything' communications Bill ("the bill must be killed")
*lambasts the Coalition's 'nanny state' moves to curb pornography on the internet, tighten cigarette packaging rules and introduce minimum booze pricing.
"It is also time for Clegg to stand up against the Tories’ creeping paternalism. Fiddly proposals for minimum alcohol pricing; intrusive ones to curb use of pornography on the internet; a raft of new rules on cigarette sales. Cameron has too often followed the lead of the “nanny state” Labour ministers he used to mock.
"Far from indulging in more micromanagement, the state should be easing up on people. There is a strong case for relaxing many of the drug laws – a case that police officers and civil servants make all the time, behind closed doors. At the very least, we should decriminalise possession of cannabis and Ecstasy."
On gay marriage, he says: "I have no doubt that the opponents of same-sex marriages will be seen, in fairly short historical order, in the same light as those who opposed mixed-race marriages."
For good measure, Reeves taunts Clegg that there aren't any black Lib Dem MPs and ridicules his decision to use the title 'Lord President of the [Privy] Council'.
Reeves will be at conference for a fringe on 'Cleggism'. Let's see if his former boss agrees with what that should mean.
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