Ah, the Great Leader’s speech. The main & last event of the Liberal Democrat party conference on Wednesday, was I don’t know how to describe it other than a muddled mess. It had great bits, don’t get me wrong. Parts of the speech made me when I watched it live, think Clegg is the man of the moment, the guy with the ability and determination to take on the vested interests and win.
Yet, at other times, his speech made me think “actually, you don’t get it. You’ll lead this party into opposition for another century and we as a party are blindly following”.
I finished watching being more conflicted about Nick’s leadership. With one hand, I want him to be Prime Minister, with the other I see him leading us to an electoral abyss.
The speech started off with a slight groan that he was going to be yet another politician to politicise the Olympics and Paralympics but I thought he handled it quite well.
The way he showed that behind each Olympian or Paralympian stood a coach. Behind that coach stood a team of physios and trainers. Each member of the team is using their individual talents to come together to do something extraordinary. Nick built on that theme by looking back at the riots and seeing that teams of individuals who came together to clean up Britain. Nick pointed to Maurice Reeves who started up his furniture store again and on the walls of the new store were pictures of young people with messages of hope.
I have to say this part reminded me of Obama’s “Yes we can” campaign of 2008. It also reminded me of his speech a few weeks ago where he tried to make the same message, that we all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. That we can build things together.
I was hoping that this would be a white British Obama speech, but I was disappointed because it quickly fell away into a muddled mesh of words that ended up being too much for political wonks. It failed to inspire either the activists. More importantly, it failed to show the electorate as a whole what we, the Liberal Democrats are about.
Nothing shows what a mess the speech was more than the ending. Nick paraphrased Grimond and Steel: “I see generations of Liberals marching towards the sound of gunfire.(Grimond) And yes, I see them going back to their constituencies to prepare for government. (Steel)”
Nick ended up finishing with: “That’s the prize. It’s within our grasp. So let’s go for it.”
To paraphrase the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons: Worst. Ending. To. A. Speech. Ever.
Despite the limp ending, what made me conflicted about this speech and about Nick’s Leadership as a whole was really the core message of the speech.
The speech was really about the Clegg project.
Clegg was telling us as a party, where he as leader wanted to take the party and how we were going to get there.
He was effectively trying to win back those people like myself who are critical of exactly where he is leading us as a party. Of course there are others in the party, who aren’t just trying to provide constructive criticism but who are actively calling for Nick to stand down.
It didn’t work though. At least not for me.
I’m on board with the aims of the Clegg project. I don’t want the LibDems to be a party of protest. I want the party to be one of 3 parties of government. Better yet, I want the party to be one of 2 parties of government.
So up to that point, I’m 100% behind Nick.
The problem I have with Nick and his leadership is his strategy of making us, one of 3 parties of government. Nick’s sell to the electorate is:
are you ready to trust Labour with your money again? And do you really think the Tories will make Britain fairer?
To use the colour analogy that Nick used in his speech. Nick wants the Liberal Democrats not to be yellow i.e. a colour that is incomparable to either red or blue. Nick wants to turn the Liberal Democrats, purple.
He wants to be Tory Blue enough so people trust us on the economy and Labour Red enough, so that we can be trusted to help the poor, the vulnerable and make Britain better.
The problem is we’re already there.
We’re being attacked from the right for being too red. We’re being attacked from the left for being too blue.
Nick might think that’s the perfect place to be but I say that has left us on 8% in the polls and leading us to become a party of perpetual opposition once again.
To use a slightly different analogy. If you go out on the pull with someone that looks completely different to you. Each of you will probably attract the attention of about half of the opposite sex (or same sex if your that way inclined). Now if you find someone who looks similar to you but slightly uglier to go out with you as well then you’ll find that the majority of the attention of the opposite sex comes to you. However, if the third person that you and your mate go out with is a slightly uglier version of your mate then the majority of the attention of the opposite sex goes to your mate. (This by the way can be much better explained by Dan Ariely here from about 11 mins in, I recommend you watch the link.)
The reason, I use that analogy is that for so many years we were seen as the similar but slightly uglier version of Labour. People looking at the Lib Dems and Labour would think that Labour were the far superior option. Therefore they would vote Labour.
Now we’re in coalition with the Tories, those voters who saw as the inferior Labour party have left to join Labour. The coalition is also now painting us, as similar but slightly uglier version of the Tories, so come 2015 who are they going to vote for? Us or the Tories, well its a no-brainer, they are going to vote for the Tories.
Nick has recently hired Ryan Coetzee (the former Director of Strategy for the DA in South Africa) who has an impressive record of building the DA vote share up from almost nothing to the largest party in a 7 party coalition that unseated the ANC. I’m interested in seeing what his strategy will be.
I’m particularly interested in seeing if he is capable of making the other parties look like similar but slightly uglier versions of the Liberal Democrats rather than the other way around.
One of the best lines of Nick’s speech was “Our Future is Ours to Make”. Indeed the future is ours to make, Nick. But what future will you make for the Liberal Democrats? I hope to see us as one of 3 parties of government but I fear your making our future one of perpetual opposition.
On Friday at conference, there was a motion on youth unemployment in which I had submitted an amendment. That meant I had to move it. I’d asked Allan MacBain of my local party to summate the motion as he was the man who inspired me to write the amendment on the drive back from our recent local party meeting.
I had managed to talk to Jo Swinson and Jim Hume about my amendment before the debate. Jo Swinson was really supportive and said she’d be cheering me on, sadly though she was kept in a meeting and missed the start of the debate so didn’t see me speak.
Slightly relieved though, having an MP and Scottish Deputy leader in the audience might have made me even more nervous than I was. I’m quite glad that the hall was almost empty for my speech.
The amendment itself defined the problems that we young people face i.e. entering the job and setting up our business.
I’ve become sick of the Labservative language on youth unemployment. My generation doesn’t have to be lost. We aren’t cogs in a machine. We don’t have to be slaves of other people being the entrepreneurs.
My generation can shape our own destiny. We can go out there and create work for ourselves and be the wealth creators of today and tomorrow.
But we more than possibly any other generation need the help and the support in order to be able to do that. We aren’t experienced. We may not have the confidence or skills that we need in order to do shape our own destinies.
I, myself would like to start my own business but lack confidence. Oh and the fear, the crippling fear and self-doubt is holding me back.
There are times when I know I can do it. I rationally believe there is nothing stopping me other than myself. I don’t want to be my own worst enemy. In ten, twenty years time, I don’t want to be saying “if only I had done this or if only I’d had the self-confidence that I do now, I’d have achieved x”
But I don’t know how to overcome this. I need help. I’m sure there are other young people like me up and down the country.
I wasn’t quite that articulate or perhaps coherent in my speech. It is so much easier to blog than it is to get up on stage and speak.
Thankfully, Allan gave a fantastic speech to summate.
The amendment passed, and I saw Danny Alexander, Tavish Scott, Jim Hume and Jo Swinson vote for it and I think I saw Liam MacArthur vote for it as well.
I’m pleased to say I’ve managed to affect party policy.
Something that is impossible in the Labour and the Conservative parties.
Over the last week a number of groups have been created in the Liberal Democrats, Liberal Left and Liberal Reform.
My take on groups or wings of the party is best summed up by what Nick Clegg said in a conference speech in Sheffield.
Liberal Left seem to be picking for a fight. They oppose the coalition and their stated ideology is social liberal/social democratic. They seem to want to pick a fight with what they call the Orange Book right-wing liberals leading the party.
I haven’t read the Orange Book so I don’t know if I’m an Orange Booker or not. What I do know though is that the Orange Book had contributions from many on the left of the party including Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Ed Davey. The Orange Book was intended to spark debate amongst the party, but all it did seemingly is spark factions.
Factions destroy parties, look at Labour, with their Blairites and their Brownites or even in the 80s when the gang of four broke away from Labour. Or look to our right, the Conservative’s are being torn apart over Europe.
Factions are bad because when people put themselves into a box of “I’m an Orange Booker” or “I’m a social liberal” or “I’m a Liberal Left” etc. it creates a sense of belonging and an idea that the rest of the party, the other factions aren’t good and need to be destroyed for the sake of the party. That destroys the pluralism which the Liberal Democrats stand for.
Liberal Reform, from what I’ve read, rather than creating a faction, is generally a place for Liberal Democrats of all persuasions to generate ideas for debate and to make sure the Liberal Democrats remain the party of radical ideas. They seem genuinely open to working with others within the Liberal Democrats, to change the ideas and policies within the party.
Liberal reform, seem to be the more pluralistic of the two new groups.
We have to remember what Nick Clegg said in Sheffield.
We are not on the left, we are not on the right, we have our own label Liberal!
If we remember that, in the face of adversity, we’ll keep our heads, and survive to fight another election.
Dear Daniel Radcliffe,
I’ve watched you grow up on screen. I grew up alongside you and Harry Potter.
I’ve seen numerous articles and quotes from you that hint at your deeply liberal philosophy.
When I read the article in the Guardian taking extracts from your interview with Attitude magazine out tomorrow, I was surprised as you seem incredibly liberal, that you were dropping your support for the Liberal Democrats. Even in the interview extracts you seem very liberal.
I was perplexed at why you were dropping your support from the LibDems. You say:
I was initially supportive. For me it was good that the Lib Dems would be fighting our corner. But he has become a whipping boy and it seems to me that he has been totally used by the Tories – anything they don’t want badly reflected on them they reflect on to him.
The reason why you are dropping your support, is not because you don’t like the LibDems fighting our corner in government. In the interview I gather you cite a number of good things the LibDems have done in government. But you think the PR is wrong.
The reason that your dropping your support, is not because you no longer believe in liberalism or that the LibDems aren’t doing good things in government but because the Tories are using Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats as human shields for policies that the Tories don’t want to be blamed for. And the media are lapping it up.
That is entirely the wrong reason. Someone with your influence, is capable of blowing the whole thing open and showing people that actually the LibDems aren’t to blame for x, y or z policies but the Tories.
As for thinking Ed Miliband is genuine. Ha. He’s got you wrapped round his little finger hasn’t he. Ed Miliband hops on to every bandwagon going and hops back off when it suits.
He came into the hacking scandal only when it became an issue that people cared about, hoping for a few extra opinion polling points, he hopped on the energy bills are too high when it became an issue in the papers, even though 18 months ago, he was in charge of that department. He hopped on to “responsible capitalism” and started attacking big bonuses when it became popular. Labour let bonuses get out of control whilst they were in government.
If Ed Miliband has a genuine belief in anything other than power and how to rip off the poor, whilst making them believe you’ll stand up for them, I’ll eat my hat.
If you believe in liberalism, if you want to make a positive difference. Then support the party that believes that. That party will always and forever be the Liberal Democrats.