Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thoughts on Nick Clegg's speech at Bournemouth

My examination of Nick Clegg's The Liberal Moment (which has not so far got past chapter 1) must be put on hold. For it is time to examine his leader's speech at Bournemouth.

Nick was young and good looking and acting kind of tough, but the content left me underwhelmed.

On Afghanistan: "We should either do this properly or we shouldn’t do it at all." Well, which do we want? Presumably doing it properly would involve more spending, so how does that square with "savage" cuts in public spending.

On Nick's resemblance to David Cameron: It's easy, Nick. It's because you both went to public school and look as though you did.

Did Sir Menzies Campbell really opposed the invasion of Iraq? My memory was that he was away from Westminster receiving treatment for cancer during the whole of the

But then there was no mention of cuts in spending. Yes, some items of expenditure that should go were identified, but as far as I can see the money from every one of those was reallocated to some eyecatching new project. Of spending cuts to repay the government deficit, there was no sign at all.

There were a few brief mention of bankers and their bonuses scattered through it, but they were hardly a them of the speech. The only mention of freedom or civil liberties came in one short paragraph on what Chris Huhne would do as home secretary.

Judging by this speech, what the Liberal Democrats stand for today is fairness. But there are problems with making this the centre of our appeal.

"Fairness" is a playground word which all political parties now use because a) talking about equality frightens the horses and b) it goes down well in focus groups. But that means that it hard to stand out when using this word.

Besides it may well turn out that "fair" means very different things to people. Is it fair that people should be poor? No. Is it fair that people should be able to use their talents to earn high salaries? Yes. The hard thing is to reconcile such disparate views.

This is not meant as an attack on the leader. These or similar problems have beset the Liberal Democrats for years and the economic collapse has hit all parties like a train. But, given that Nick prides himself on being blunt and speaking out, you could have hoped for a bit more clarity today.

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