It’s liberal to be skeptical – Nick Clegg closes conference

Nick Clegg’s speech closing the Liberal Democrat Conferencecan be found here.

Representing a compassionate, greener, more democratic country. And the Dalia Lama.

Representing a compassionate, greener, more democratic country. And the Dalia Lama.

Even an atheist can use god to make a point, in his speech about children:

Children are inspirational.

Miriam and I can’t wait to be parents again.

I love the way children see the world.

There was a great story I heard recently about a little girl, doing a painting in class.

The teacher comes over and says – what are you painting?

And the girl says – God.

So the teacher says – But no-one one knows what God looks like.

The girl says – they will in a minute.

Children don’t see barriers.

When you’re a child – everything is possible.

Labour is a zombie government ” a cross between Shaun of the Dead and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” while on David Cameron “You have to admire, I suppose, the sheer gall of someone who worked for Margaret Thatcher claiming he cares about poverty.”

He compared New Labour of 1997 to the “Blue Labour” of the Conservatives now. It seemed that he was pitching for traditional Conservative voters that went to Labour from 1997 but are thinking of going back to the Conservatives. Contrasting Conservative anti-EU feeling with an increasingly belligerent Russia and the need for increasing international cooperation was just one example of contrasts between Conservatives in what they said and what they planned to do.

He spoke of the Liberal Democrat party:

We grow every year.

We’ve been in government in Scotland. In Wales.

We run more big cities in England than any other party.

At the last General Election we won 6 million votes, more than any other liberal party in Europe.

Together we will double our MPs in Westminster.

And at the next general election we’ll take a giant leap towards that goal.

We can do it because we are the vanguard of British politics.

We have been at the forefront of a revolution in ideas.

The first to fight for women’s rights, gay rights, human rights.

The first to understand the problem of climate change.

The first to see the economic crisis on the horizon.

The first to see the vital role of liberal interventionism in international affairs.

And the first to see its limits – and oppose the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Realistically though the question is what will the Liberal Democrats do if they hold the balance of power? Would they form a coalition government as they did in Scotland and Wales (with Labour, though out now) or be independent forcing through it’s manifesto? The latter has usually been the policy line.

That need not be a hindrance if the Lib Dems can create a policy identity. One that says fairer taxes, less taxes for the lower paid, an education system that frees teachers to teach without bureaucracy putting their hands behind their backs, and puts decision making in the hands of the community rather than Whitehall.

However with the £20 billion promised in spending cuts, and in particular talking up Vince Cable (who by Conservatives is perhaps the most respected Lib Dem) in economic management it seems that the emphasis is not being squeezed by the Conservatives rather than a focus on replacing Labour.

The next election will see if this strategy works. The only thing that seems certain is in opinion polls people have gone from Labour to Conservative. While Lib Dem candidates can be second to Labour or Conservative incumbents, the question is that being all things to all people is not working. Clegg spoke about social justice and cutting taxes at the bottom and to be the most redistributive tax policy of any party. The aim seems to be appealing more to would be Conservative supporters compared to the past.

Policy is one thing, but you need to be in power to enact this. Whether the Lib Dems have the strategy to do this, and the resources to have key tactics in place at target seats is unclear. On that I am skeptical. That is ok – because it’s liberal to be skeptical according Nick Clegg. But to make the changes that need to happen the Lib Dems need to be a force to be reckoned with either in terms of a poll bounce or actual seats won at the next election.

It was a good first speech by the new Liberal Democrat leader. But as the last leader found out Clegg needs to do better in opinion polls soon. Otherwise Dave Cameron’s quip that his favourite political joke at the moment is “Nick Clegg” will stick. Certainly if Clegg targets supporters moving from Labour to the Conservatives and it backfires it will be. With the left in British politics being drowning in the deep blue.

Also the 250,000 people that apparently are being phoned for “market research” on behalf of the Lib Dems may land the party in trouble over cold calling rules. That together with Nick Clegg getting the weekly pension wrong does not bode well.

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