Lib Dems to hold spring conference
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg will open the Lib Dem conference this evening. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
The Liberal Democrats are gathering for their spring conference in the UK today with the party wracked by more damaging controversy.
Senior figures are facing questions over when they knew of allegations that former minister Chris Huhne’s ex-wife had taken speeding points on his behalf.
Vicky Pryce was found guilty of perverting the course of justice yesterday, and will be sentenced along with the ex-cabinet member at a future date.
In emails disclosed during the case, economist Ms Pryce suggested she had told Business Secretary Vince Cable and his wife Rachel about the crime in January 2011 — well before the claims emerged in newspapers.
A spokeswoman for Mr Cable said: “Vince and Rachel have no recollection of the issue of points being raised with them over the course of dinner with Vicky Pryce on 28 January 2011.”
Nick Clegg’s wife Miriam was also forced to issue a statement after being dragged into the row.
“I have never ever been told by Vicky or anybody else about the traffic points story. I got to know about this when everybody else did,” she said.
The Lib Dem leadership had been hoping to build on victory in the Eastleigh by-election at the gathering in Brighton this weekend.
The triumph came despite fears that allegations of inappropriate behaviour by the party’s ex-chief executive Lord Rennard — which he has strongly denied — could harm the party’s chances.
Another potential conference flashpoint was defused earlier this week when Lib Dem health minister Norman Lamb announced that widely-criticised new regulations on competition in the NHS were being withdrawn.
However, there is still likely to be a showdown with activists over so-called secret courts legislation.
And the suggestions of a cover-up over the Huhne case will add to anxiety in the party amid consistently poor national poll ratings.
Lib Dem president Tim Farron last night warned that the party was in a “critical state”, and should not assume its survival is guaranteed.
But he told parliament’s The House magazine that the allegations surrounding Lord Rennard were having little impact on the general public.
Mr Clegg will kick off the conference this evening with a speech to a rally of activists.