Lib Dems lurch left just as conference looms

The Liberal Democrats today called on the government to scrap the Trident nuclear missile system, in the latest intervention designed to head-off growing dissent from the party's disgruntled left-wingers.

The call from chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander followed a series of similar interventions from other senior Lib Dems in recent days.

In a speech to the Brookings Institute, Alexander urged the UK government to "take a big step down" from retaining a 24-hour nuclear deterrent.

"Trident is the UK's last, unreformed bastion of Cold War thinking," he said.

Alexander's speech comes the week before the Lib Dems' autumn conference, as the party seeks to deal with rising disquiet from those on its left.

Earlier this week Sarah Teather announced her decision to stand down at the next election, saying that she felt "desolate" about the party's lurch to the right.

In response, Vince Cable said this morning that he felt "sympathetic" to some of Teather's concerns.

The party also signaled this week that they will abandon their support for the expansion of secret courts, just six months after voting for them in Parliament.

Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron used an interview with the New Statesman today to hint that they would be more comfortable working with Labour in any future coalition.

In extended praise for the Labour leader, Farron portrayed Miliband as a model progressive.

"I think he is somebody who is genuinely of the Robin Cook wing of the Labour party, from their perspective what you’d call the 'soft left'," he told the magazine.

"Somebody who is not a Luddite on environmental issues, somebody who's open minded about modernising our democracy, somebody who's instinctively a bit more pluralistic than most Labour leaders and a bit more internationalist as well."

Nick Clegg's support for UK involvement in Syria caused a considerable amount of concern among Lib Dem MPs earlier this month.

Almost half the party abstained or voted against the government's motion.

Farron said today that he would have voted against any further motion for a UK intervention in Syria.

Some on the right of the party have warned the party against tacking left, however.

Lib Dem minister Jeremy Browne said today that the party could find joining a coalition with Labour even more difficult than staying with the Tories.

He said there was a "much bigger gap" between the Lib Dems and Labour than there was with the Conservatives.

Fellow right-winger David Laws also warned this week that the party must only make "credible" promises in their next manifesto.

Speaking to journalists, Laws said the party must make clear which of their policies they would be prepared to fight for in a coalition and which they wouldn't.