Clegg the Earnest

The burd was off today but was working (I know, I know).  But all work and no play…  so I listened in to Nick Clegg’s historic speech to his party faithful at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Liverpool.   And it was all rather odd.

It was a decent enough speech.  A few good soundbites, though not the awful “stick with us” that wound up to his ahem, finale.  Which incidentally did not require a meek little thank you at the end.  You are the goddamn leader!  You have taken them into government for the first time in 65 years!  And you end with a timid “thank you, thank you for listening”???

Unlike many, he did not overstay his welcome.  Thirty minutes or so and he was done.  Just in time for the early evening bulletins.  Good work, back room team.

The overall tone?  Well, it was just all a little bit earnest.  Though, perhaps it needed to be.  As other bloggers have suggested, we were not the intended audience; those inside the hall were.  And he needed to try and woo his own into “sticking with” the party and the coalition government.  He talked up the things that the Liberal Democrats had brought into the coalition and actually, it was useful to be reminded of these.  Raising the income tax allowance, ending child detention, a pupil premium for the poorest children, reform of the House of Lords – all good.   And his big announcement for local authorities – the right to borrow against business rate income – has clearly been lifted from Scotland, as it has already been proposed by the SNP Government here (thanks to Gordon Wright for the tip off).  Nice to think we are showing them how to do things down there.

The section where he compared cutting the deficit to managing a household budget was excruciating and came across as patronising.  Everyone knows the need to balance the books but likening it to a family in debt was cod economics at its worst.  All it did was remind everyone of the dark days of pinch and squeeze to come, at a personal level as well as across the nations.

The best bits were, of course, when he got passionate.  He railed against the bankers several times, and a key line, somewhat buried, was that if they failed again they’d be on their own.  And the best riposte of his speech was in attacking Labour on the banking crisis:  “we’ve done more in five months than they managed in years”.  Which got a cheer.  Boy had they made him work for it.

Perhaps most worryingly though was his earnest appeal to his members in relation to what they would have to sell on the doorsteps at the next election.  Earnestly, he told them that being in government, would give them a record of delivery to offer – restored civil liberties, scrapped ID cards, removed innocent people’s DNA from the police database.  

But the list simply spotlights the very essence of Nick Clegg’s political problem.  The things that really matter to the Liberal Democrats, matter not one jot on a day to day basis to ordinary voters.   Public services will have been slashed, people will have lost their jobs, incomes will have reduced hugely.  But the Lib Dems will be able to say isn’t it good that you can vote more fairly in this election, thanks to us.  There is a naivete and political immaturity at work here that needs to be tackled, or else they will indeed face electoral oblivion. 

And at the end?  He got the obligatory standing ovation of several minutes length.  But it was polite applause rather than rapturous.  Dutiful even.  I actually felt a little sorry for him.