Wednesday, 18 September 2013


Well, follow that. Federal Conference in Glasgow 2014 is going to have to be the best party conference of all time to improve on the last five days. There has been the right balance of endorsement of the party in parliament and defeats for the powers that be to show that the Liberal Democrats are still a members party. The direction of the drafting of the general election has been established. Linda Jack has renewed her faith for another year. There has been a notable defection - Dr Richard Grayson to Labour - but the usual headlines that a leading Liberal has quit have not appeared. Indeed, the media coverage has been almost objective. More to the point, it has been extensive and serious. To top it all, there has been Nick Clegg's best Leader's Speech ever.

I have some niggles. I always have niggles. The party could have been openly critical of the real-terms cuts in JSA and some other benefits, even though our leaders can claim some credit for stopping George Osborne for making them even worse. There was nothing about the unjust, privatised, work capability assessment system - even though it is something else we can justly criticise Labour over. In the effort to differentiate us from the other parties (and I wish more of this had been done from the start of the coalition) there was little acknowledgement of what in those parties we could sympathise with. Full marks to Simon Hughes for reaching out to the trades unions in his speech this morning calling for a more even income distribution, and to Lord McNally for drawing Conservatives' attention to their party's historic attachment to human rights.

I'm not a great one for leaders' speeches. On the occasions that I attend conference, I find that the lunch interval before the speech is a good time to make for the railway station before the rush. Out of duty this afternoon I stayed to the end of BBC Parliament's coverage from Glasgow, and I'm glad I did. There was the expected electoral appeal to the centre ground, but there were also more personal content than usual. I must admit to a tear in my eye this afternoon when Nick described his joy when as an Englishman in America he could not get enough of the media coverage of the breach of the Berlin Wall when the news broke. That struck a chord with me, who miles from home watched BBC's live transmission from Berlin when Olenka Frankiel walked in with a chunk of the Wall which had just been hacked off and put it on the table in front of the panel of the great and the good. It was all the more moving for me and others of my generation who were around when the Wall was thrown up, a more frightening experience than the Cuban Missile crisis. When Nick described his mother's privations in a prisoner-of-war camp, I remembered my schoolmate Graham's mother describing having been part of a forced march across war-torn Europe. Nick could have finished his speech there and then.  The descent into an announcement of free school meals was bathetic. But it triumphantly picked up again.

There will always be the suspicion that Nick - in common with the other major party leaders - does not know the price of a sliced loaf or a litre of milk. He was honest about his privileged background, but there is no doubt in my mind that he is an instinctive liberal. I was glad that he proclaimed his belief in education for all, to the European Union and to human rights, and to shouting about them during the campaign to come. We now need to convince the voters that we also believe in economic fairness, as so many representatives affirmed from the rostrum in these last few days.

No comments: