Lib-Dem Conference Special – some tips for Nick Clegg’s Speech

by Ray_North on September 20, 2011


Back in the early 1990’s, I drafted a speech for Paddy Ashdown on the issue of unemployment. I remember being petrified as I tentatively handed it to the great captain, whom promptly read the first two paragraphs, before scrunching up his eyes until they became non-existent, looking beyond me at some spectral image that must have been stood by the open door, and repeating in the most disparaging of tones ‘no, no, no, no, no.’

He hated my jokes, he hated my structure, he wasn’t impressed by my obviously lax attitude towards the rules of English grammar and spelling and he didn’t like what I thought was a damn good peroration (I still stand by that, in fact, as far as I ‘m concerned, few people perorate like me!).

But what he didn’t take issue with was the substance of the policy that was contained in it. Unemployment was bordering on 3million at the time, and, if my memory serves me right, the speech contained policies about the regeneration of the former industrial heartlands; a benefit transfer programme to help the long term unemployed; a system of apprenticeships in partnership with industry and the Universities, funded almost entirely by industry; investment in infrastructure (and in particular the railways); and, a system of credits to allow anyone the chance to take up further and higher education free of charge at any time during their lives.

It was a speech that unashamedly embraced the role of the state and was crammed with policies that would create growth and jobs.

Now fast forward almost twenty years and Nick Clegg will be making his speech to his conference at a time when unemployment is again hovering towards 3 million. Unlike Paddy, he is part of the government, something that is clearly proving to be more of burden than a benefit, because the Coaltion is unpopular, and the nation has lost all trust in him as a person.

So what should he say?

Well, I know what I’d like him to say, but that’s not going to happen – so, realistically, what can he tell his conference and indeed the nation who will be looking (at least some of them) at the Lib-Dems this week.

First, politically, he must re-establish himself as the leader of a party that is not Tory-lite. He should desist from engaging in the rather duplicitous act of Conservative Slagging – it just sounds shabby. What would be far more effective is if he started to re-engage with the Labour Party. He shouldn’t be afraid of saying to his conference, that the reason he is in coalition with the Tories is partly because of the fact that Labour didn’t want to engage in negotiations (we now can see that after three years of Brown, many in the Labour hierarchy almost certainly preferred the prospect of opposition than a coalition arrangement), which is a shame because traditionally and instinctively, the Lib-Dems do have more in common with Labour than the Conservatives. He shouldn’t be afraid to say that.

Secondly, he should accept the possibility that the economic measures so integral to the coalition aren’t working. I accept that he won’t say that in terms – but, he should outline a Lib-Dem Plan B even if George Osborne won’t, and this Plan B should include the possibility of the type of measures for growth that were traditionally part of the party’s policy. He should tell the conference that this is what he will be campaigning for around the cabinet table and remind conference, that it is all very well adding a liberal touch to the coalition, but, ‘core liberal values’ mean pretty much nothing if you’re skint and unemployed.

He should call for an immediate emergency summit of the G20 to prepare a world-wide programme of economic measures that will promote growth. The Lib-Dems are internationalists, the conference would love this.

He should also remind his party that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the role of the state, and that a well run system of support from government has been a bedrock of modern liberalism since the days of Beveridge and before that Lloyd-George’s 1909 People’s Budget.

And he should state categorically that if these things aren’t done and if unemployment continues to grow, he will be prepared to pull his party out of the coalition – because jobs and prosperity of future generations is more important than his job and the trappings of power.

Finally, he should tell conference, resoundingly, that the rumours about electoral pacts at the next general election and beyond are pure fantasy and that as soon as the coalition is disbanded, he will return his party to the progressive centre which is where it always belonged.

Sadly, I know that if Nick Clegg looked at my humble scribblings, he too would probably also scrunch up his eyes and give it short shrift, because, sadly, all we’ll hear from the Leader of the Lib-Dems is more stuff about tough decisions in the light of terrible economic conditions (which they are helping to make worse), a few lame boasts about how 70% of their manifesto commitments are now policy, and some limp words about how it would all be so much worse if the Tories were in power on their own.

I’m sorry Nick, ‘no, no, no, no, no.’

(I told you I give great peroration!)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Charlie East-West September 21, 2011 at 8:27 am

Nick Clegg will announce during his keynote speech that as many as 100,000 children who are at risk of going off the rails be offered a chance to attend two-week summer school prior to starting secondary studies. The £50m scheme will start next year, offering catch-up classes to help young people who he says have lost touch with their future.

Another barmy idea from Clegg. A two week summer school to replace the year-round youth clubs and the Education Maintenance Allowances that he has helped to destroy through public sector funding cuts.

If he’s really got £50m to spend, why not just give the kids £500 each in vouchers for JD Sports or Currys? A huge boost to the retail sector, and riots are avoided.

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