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Last Updated: Friday, 22 February 2008, 06:48 GMT
Lib Dems focus on council record
By Phil Parry
BBC News

Mike German
Mike German has said he will step down as Welsh leader after May
Any talk of challenges to Mike German's leadership of the Welsh Liberal Democrats is said to be firmly "off the agenda" at their spring conference.

Even those who have been unhappy with Mr German's performance are concentrating on the party's achievements in local government.

Those are the themes the Lib Dems want to promote in Llandudno this weekend.

The emphasis on unity comes as Nick Clegg prepares to speak on Saturday, his first conference speech as UK party leader.

Another way of looking at it might be, as one senior Lib Dem figure put it, of turning Llandudno into the most boring conference ever for the media.

Building safer and greener communities and providing better value for money... that's the record we will be talking about
Mike German, leader, Welsh Liberal Democrats

Mr German has already announced he will stand down as leader at some unspecified point. Officially, he has said that will happen "as soon as seems sensible and practicable" but he would not be drawn on whether this would be his last conference as leader.

But for those within the party such as Peter Black, the South Wales West AM, and a potential leadership contender, the message is clear.

New faces

"My understanding is that Mike has said he will stand down before the summer recess," he said. And as for the conference - expect no fireworks on that score.

"Everybody is concentrating on the council elections and that is what we are focusing on," he added.

The conference needs to galvanise its members, but also to reach out to voters beyond urban areas in Wales where the party has seen success at local level.

In Cardiff there is a minority Liberal Democrat administration - and in Swansea, Wrexham and Bridgend they are in coalition with other political parties.

Nick Clegg MP
Nick Clegg will give his first speech at a national conference

Turning their traditional concentration on local issues into votes in May's council elections will be a central issue.

Mr Clegg, who became UK leader in December, will bash Labour's record in Wales and emphasise his party's plans to tackle inequality, he is also likely to underscore his call for more Lib Dem representation. He has set a target of doubling the number of Lib Dem MPs from the present 63.

Credentials

A big ask, and Wales will be expected to play its part. Doubling the number of Welsh Liberal Democrat MPs from the present four will be no easier.

The party has set up a number of policy reviews since the May assembly election - when they saw no advance on their six seats - including reports on health, education and how to emphasise the party's "Welshness".

But it is the party's local council performance that they will be emphasising. In the last council elections in 2004 they increased the number of councillors by 50%.

"People can see our record," said Mike German, who will speak to the conference on Saturday afternoon.

"Building safer and greener communities and providing better value for money. That's the record we will be talking about."

Sunday could see the nearest brush with controversy when there is a motion on changing the constitution over the leadership of the party. If passed, that would make the leader of the parliamentary group, currently Roger Williams MP, deputy leader of the Welsh Lib Dems.

The party will be emphasising local credentials and "unity" of purpose ahead of the council elections, so don't expect any moves to unseat Mike German.

We could have to wait until after May for that.

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