It’s an opportunity for grand-standing, intense embarrassment, sealing your future in high office or having the media judge you as an incompetent public speaker.
Enter the players. The prime minister and party chiefs Iain Duncan Smith and Charles Kennedy are the leads, but the chancellor Gordon Brown, and his opposite numbers Michael Howard and Matthew Taylor, play major supporting roles.
And it’s these support players, the ones with their fingers apparently on the pulse of UK plc, who will draw attention from anyone interested in the travails of the British economy.
First up among them, though, is Matthew Taylor and probably the one with the least to worry about. Sure, he’s still got to impress the party activists that he knows his GDP from his PSBR, but for Taylor the pressure is largely off. When he stands to make his main speech next Tuesday morning, he won’t have had the opportunity to hear Gordon Brown or Michael Howard so won’t be under pressure to demonstrate that both are economic ingrates – though he may feel that deep down.
In fact his most difficult job, given that the economy seems to be looking up, will be to show that the Lib Dems still have something to offer. A tall order, but as anyone who knows Taylor will tell you, he’s unlikely to be short of something to say.
Determined, energetic and ambitious, Taylor is close to party leader Charles Kennedy and has been involved in some intensive policy development since becoming treasury spokesman.
Speaking publicly he has sounded off about many issues but has reserved some of his most detailed assaults for issues like national insurance and the euro.
In August last year, he told Accountancy Age: ‘There is currently a massive burden of NI compliance. The system is immensely complicated for business and the costs to the government and business run into billions of pounds.’
He added: ‘It’s no good offering tiny tax breaks and introducing higher compliance costs; our preference is to keep things simple.’
On the euro, he lambasts the government for continuing to ‘sit on the fence’, which he says is ‘bad news for innovation in the UK’. When he speaks at conference, expect Taylor to come out punching about interest rates being a tad too high compared to the US and the eurozone, for entry to the euro, overhauling the remit of the Bank of England and bringing in non-UK nationals to the monetary policy committee.
But while all that sounds enthralling, don’t get over-excited. As gripping as the economics are, this year’s conference season is set to be dominated by the war in Iraq, the weapons dossier, BBC reporting, the tragic death of Dr David Kelly and the Hutton inquiry. If Taylor manages to grab headlines with fiscal policy and macroeconomics in the midst of all that, he’ll be really going some.
– Email Michelle_Perry@vnu.co.uk.
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