I thought Nick Clegg’s speech to the Liberal Democrat spring conference on Saturday was one of the best leader’s speeches I have heard for many years. I thought it was a speech of gravity, of great political intelligence, one that has altered my view of Nick and his leadership, and has strengthened my optimism for the future. My companion (as they say in restaurant reviews) was less impressed. He, the cynical bastard that he is, hummed and hawed and the best comment that he could come up with was “it had some highlights”. But I think he was listening to a different speech to me.
Clegg’s tone was one of seriousness through out. A seriousness befitting of a crisis. He went on to lay out, in a reasonable amount of detail, what the Liberal Democrat response would be to that crisis. He also sought to contrast this with the failings in the response of both the Labour government and Conservative opposition. But crucially he wanted to go further. He sought to characterise this time of crisis as an opportunity to take radical steps to build a better, and different, world in the future. Seriousness in a time of crisis. A message of hope for the future. It doesn’t take a genius to spot the echoes of Obama.
The following passage of the speech was where I most strongly felt those echoes. It was also the part of the speech that made me sit up and go “ooh, this is getting good”. It was this bit;
“This is the part of the speech where convention dictates I make some jokes
about Labour and the Conservatives. But I’m not going to.
There is a time for knockabout mockery – there’s plenty every Wednesday afternoon at Prime Ministers Questions – but this is not it.
People deserve better. They will rightly not forgive politicians keen only to score points off each other…
When what they desperately need is money in their pockets, job security,
a roof over their heads, and hope.
There is only one big dividing line that matters in British politics right now.
On one side, there are people who want to patch up the old way of doing things. Keep our economy dependent on financial wizardry. Keep power among the old elites. Cling to those old 80s ideas with a tweak here, or a nip and tuck there.
And on the other side, there are people who want to build something truly new, truly better. An economy that’s stable, green, diverse. A society built on freedom, compassion and enterprise. A politics that puts the opportunity for a better life into the hands of every woman, every man and every child.”
This passage says “I am different – I am serious – I am a more grown up kind of politician – I offer change from the past – and hope for a different and better future”. This is very much what was at the core of the Obama message. It was what I think Clegg was trying to convey in his speech.
In going beyond an immediate response to the crisis but looking forward, with a kind of determined hope, to this better future Neil Stockley believes that in this speech Clegg was outlining a “vision story”. He sees progress towards that elusive goal of a Lib Dem ‘narrative’. I agree.
This is Britain not America. But this message does fit in well with that old traditional third party message of “a plague on both your houses”. Against the current political background that message could work well for us as it has done in similar circumstances in the past. Clegg seems aware of this and sought to reinforce that message but talking about how Labour and the Conservatives are very much the same. An argument that Liberal Democrats have also often used in the past. He talked of the need to “replace the failed politics of Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown”. This is the end of a kind of politics that Labour and Conservatives have shared. Something else is needed. This was the message of Clegg’s peroration:
“A never-ending cycle of red-blue, blue-red government has got us into this mess – it is never going to get us out.
Try something new.
Now is the time to think big.
If you want better, choose different.
Choose the Liberal Democrats.”
This content was originally posted on my old Process Guy blog.