The Alternative Lib Dem Conference Speech by Nick Clegg

by Charlie_East_West on September 19, 2013


“Fellow Liberal Democrats, I have in my hands two conference speeches. In my right hand, I have my official speech that has just been issued under embargo to the media. In my left hand, I have another speech – and this is the speech that I am going to give today.

First of all. I owe you and the entire country an apology. I am sorry. I am desperately sorry for what I have done to you and many people across the country.

Three years ago – nearly three and a half – I walked into the Cabinet Office for my first day as Deputy Prime Minister.

Picture it: history in the making as a Liberal Democrat leader entered, finally, into the corridors of power, preparing to unshackle Britain after years of Labour and Conservative rule. Only to arrive and find an empty room and one shell-shocked civil servant promising me we’d get on with things shortly – but first he had to get us some strong whisky and a shotgun.

You saw the calm bit in the rose garden. What you didn’t see was the utter chaos indoors. To say the Coalition caught Whitehall off guard is a massive understatement. The Government machine had no idea how it was going to handle power sharing – and not just the whisky. This was going to need a complete overhaul of how decisions would be taken and departments would be run. And – while no one really wanted to admit it at the time – the truth is, no one was quite sure how it was all going to work. Sadly, today, we are still not sure how it all works.

Here we were, this anti-establishment liberal party – which hadn’t been in power for 70 years – smack bang in the middle of Her Majesty’s Government: a Government machine built to serve one party, with only one party leader at the centre, now suddenly having to answer to two parties and two party leaders. Alongside us were these Tories, who we had been at war with for the past month – well, actually, more like the last hundred years.

The country was deep in economic crisis, in desperate need of stable Government. And the whole thing was set to a soundtrack of pessimism and naysaying: the Liberal Democrats had signed their own death warrant. The Coalition would fall in a matter of months. Britain would be the next Greece.

So let’s just stop and think about where we are now: We now have the lowest living standards in 100 years. Unsuccessful coalition – something that seemed inevitable, is now accepted as the norm. And the Liberal Democrats proving that we cannot trusted with the biggest responsibility of all – fixing the economy.

I know how hard it has been getting here – facing down all the vitriol from our opponents. Trust me, there were days I thanked my lucky stars that my children were too young to understand how deluded I had become since I succumbed to power. But every insult we have had to endure since we entered Government, every snipe, every bad headline, every blow to our support: That was all worth it – I deserved it all – because I have turned Britain into a two tier, broken society.

We haven’t won over a single critic; and we’ll be tested a million more times. But the big question mark that has always hung over the Liberal Democrats – could we handle Government, and handle it when the going got tough? – that question mark is now gone. Austerity and a flatlining economy wouldn’t be happening without us.

So I want you to feel ashamed of me today. Feel ashamed that the country’s fortunes are stuck in an all time rut. Feel ashamed that, when we were under pressure to buckle and change course, we stubbornly tore up our liberal credentials and propped up a Tory administration that has an ideology that many of you hate. Feel ashamed that we are right here, in the centre of Government and the centre of British politics, failing to stand up for the millions of people in the middle.

I have talked to you before about our journey from the comforts of opposition to the realities of Government – but not anymore. Liberal Democrats – we are a party of Government now. And just think of what we have destroyed in three short years.

We are finally reducing unemployment, but, we have also helped put one in five workers below the living wage; we have helped put 8 million people on work for less than 25 hours a week, and put around 1 million people zero-hour contract work.

We have just announced free school dinners for infants, but we now have half a million people depending on food banks.

We forced through the pupil premium, but, we also helped put more than a million children into poverty.

We took the poorest in society out of the tax threshold, but, we also gave the super rich a massive tax cut.

We have created a bank devoted to clean, green industry, but, we are now a pro-nuclear power and pro-fracking party.

Because here’s what’s at stake at the next election: The country is still staggering around punch drunk from the blows received by our austerity programme, and our failure to implement an effective strategy to deal with the biggest economic crisis in living memory. The absolute worst thing to do would be to give us the keys to power once again in 2015.

All of the sacrifices made by the British people – the pay freezes, the spending cuts, the lost jobs, the daily grind of austerity – all of that would be for nothing – if you let the Liberal Democrats finish the job and finish it in a way that is ideologically bankrupt. But, back in Government – and next time that will mean back in coalition Government – the Liberal Democrats can keep the country on a path of austerity, low living standards and brutal discrimination against the poorest in society.

Imagine the next round of leaders’ debates – everyone watching to see who agrees with whom this time. David Cameron will say to Ed Miliband: you’re irresponsible, you are going to drive the economy to ruin. Ed Miliband will say to David Cameron: you can’t be trusted to help everyone, your party only cares about the rich. For once, I will agree with them both – because both also apply to me. I have been both irresponsible and untrustworthy.

But, Liberal Democrats, we have learned a lot since getting into Government, and one of the main things I have learnt is this: If we’re asking people to put us back in the room next time round, if we want them to know why it’s better to have us round the table when the big decisions are made, they need to be able to make a judgement about what we’ll do there. And that’s as much a judgement about our complete lack of values, character and background as anything else.

What do you think Britain would look like today if the Tories had been alone in Whitehall for the last three years? What would have happened without Liberal Democrats in this Government? I haven’t said enough about it. Today, I give that answer to you. We have made no positive difference in this government. In fact, we have made it worse. We have propped up and enabled the Tories to run amok.

In the past the Liberal Democrats would eke out an existence on the margins of British politics. I have spent my entire life watching the other two parties mess it up. I have now ensured that we have also messed it up.

Liberal Democrats take that message out to the country. I have messed it up. So, go back to your constituencies and prepare for oblivion.”

Previous post:

Next post: