Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Well Done, Nick!

And there were only 511 votes in it! I was thinking that the Liberal Democrat electorate was about the size of a Parliamentary constituency, and there we go and make the result a marginal. Well done, too, to Chris, for coming so close – something that shows how impressive both candidates were, and how important both will be to heading our success. But most of all, well done and good luck to Nick Clegg, and it was great to see him reach out with such an energetic, optimistic, Liberal speech, setting out his ambition to change politics and the country.

Blimus, that was close. But didn’t he sound good?

First, a witty and insightful little speech from Vince, clearly enjoying his encore as Acting Leader; then, a gracious and generous little speech from Chris to congratulate Nick, predicting he’ll be a great Leader; and then in effect two speeches from Nick, one to the hall and one to the country, one self-effacing and light-hearted, immediately congratulating and, I hope, signalling a major role for his former rival (“As of now we are colleagues once again, and I am really looking forward to working with you for the sake of Liberalism in Britain”), then the main event powerful, passionately Liberal and showing him at his best.

“I’m a Liberal – by temperament, by instinct, by upbringing.” A great opening line for the ‘outward’ section of Nick’s speech. I wonder if he knows it’s almost word-for-word from John Steed? But he went on to personalise his beliefs, to tie them to his family, his party and his country, with a strong evocation of what Liberalism is and why it’s in tune with Britain:
“My own family was marked, scattered, reunited by the tragic conflicts of the last century. I was taught from an early age that Britain was a place of tolerance and pluralism, with a history steeped in democracy and the Rule of Law. I believe that Liberalism is the thread that holds together everything that this country stands for…

“We’re a people with a strong sense of fair play and social justice. An instinct to protect the environment for future generations. We’re suspicious of arbitrary power, wary of government interference. We want to play an active, enlightened role in the wider world. And we have always put our faith in the ability of ordinary men and women to change things for the better.”
Then, of course, the optimism was tempered by realism, facing up to the problem that this is still not the Liberal Britain we want it to be, with “our civil liberties casually cast aside,” “gigantic, faceless, and incompetent government bureaucracies” – never a truer word spoken – and families struggling to meet each month’s bills, to balance the demands of work and the time for a real family life. Politics, he said, was broken, out of touch with people and the modern world. His one simple ambition: “To change Britain. To make it the Liberal country I believe the British people want it to be.” Well, not that simple, Nick. Go on? That would be a country where people can take charge of their lives, where words on the environment turn into real action, “where no-one is condemned by the circumstances of their birth”.
“Why have we stopped imagining a better society? Look at what we’ve got. Labour and the Conservatives have governed in exactly the same way – top-down, centralising. I simply refuse to believe that the only alternative to a clapped-out Labour Government is a Conservative Party that has no answers to the big issues. Environmentalism without substance. Social justice without money. Internationalism without Europe. So the challenge for my party is to define a Liberal alternative to the discredited politics of big government.”
And that means opening up the Liberal Democrats, Westminster and politics – holding regular public meetings, give people who support the Lib Dems but aren’t members a say (sounds inviting, but what’s the meat? We didn’t see it in his campaign, and he doesn’t have a blank cheque) and spend one day a week campaigning outside Westminster, again and positively learning a trick from Paddy. He’ll also be setting up a network of families – however defined? – to tell him his priorities. Which should be interesting.
“If you once voted for us, but you think we’ve spent too much time focusing on ourselves…
“If you once voted for the Conservative Party, but have no idea what they stand for any more…
“If you once voted for the Labour Party, but feel let down by ten years of disappointment…
“If you’ve given up voting altogether, but still care about the world we live in…
“Then a newly united, energetic and optimistic Liberal Democrat party is the party for you.”
And, again, the party will need to change. “More professional, more united, more ambitious.” Good for you, sir, and the same to you.
“Liberalism is the creed of our times. The politics of ‘left’ and ‘right’ has broken down. Labour and the Conservatives are mutating into each other, united in defence of a system that has let the people down. Instead, we must start where people are, not where we think they should be. In short, I want the Liberal Democrats to be the future of politics. Because Liberal Democrats have the courage to imagine a better society. To break the stifling grip of the two-party system for good, to bring in a new politics, of politicians who listen to people – not themselves – no more business as usual, no more government knows best. I want today to mark the beginning of a real change in Britain. The beginning of Britain’s Liberal future.”
A solid, passionate, persuasive speech, then, and either daring or introspective to use the word “Liberal” so much. I hope he gets to reclaim it; more than that, I hope he gets it to resonate with people as he clearly hopes it does. That means I hope he’ll set out in people’s minds a much firmer sense of what being “Liberal” actually means so that people will really identify with the idea, and his speech today made a good start on that; Liberal, strongly delivered, outward-looking …Just a shame to have that line about “a people’s politics”. Dear, dear, that sounds like Tony Blair a decade ago or Eastern European states two or more decades ago. But when a Liberal Democrat Leader makes a speech that has a curmudgeon like me beaming for most of it and just giving one little wince, that’s a definite win!

Update: back from a quick but invigorating bloggers’ interview with Nick (of which more tomorrow, fingers crossed), and rather than just the bits I typed in you can now read his whole acceptance speech online. Which means I’ve spotted the “values” line I was sure I’d heard first time out but couldn’t find when scanning back through the speech to select bits in the following half-hour or so while typing those selections. Of course, it’s because I was looking in the second part of the speech, and it was the bit he started with. One of the things I like about Nick’s ideas is that he wants to communicate our values rather than just our policies, as he did in his evocation of Britain’s Liberalism above. Well, so even I can’t miss it, his promise to do that is up on the much-improved (for one day only, apparently) front of the official Lib Dem website:
“With renewed ambition, we will reach out to the millions of people who share our values but have not yet voted for us.”

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Nick has lost my whole family (five voters) mtonight, We have decided to vote Tory. He was so arrogant on Newsnight tonight. He clkearly said he would listen but not hear to adverse views. I remember Thatcher. Does he????
Thanks for dropping by, Eddie. I’m puzzled, though. What you say he said didn’t sound a bit to me like what he said when I watched him. So I’ve just watched that interview again, and it’s not what he said at all (and talking of being “arrogant,” you speak for every single member of your family, do you? And do they salute you when you send them to bed?).

Nick wasn’t remotely arrogant – he spoke with conviction. He thinks politicians have got it wrong, listening too much to each other and getting out of touch with what other people think. So he wants to hear from people who aren’t involved in politics, learn from their ideas and talk more about the things they’re interested in than rather than the things he’s interested in.

But that’s not the same as giving up his values, or deciding every issue by focus groups and opinion polls. That’s the way you get politicians who don’t stand for anything, who you can’t trust, and who’ll change their mind with every gust of wind. What Nick said he’d do where his values meant he couldn’t agree with people talking to him was have a dialogue. They may have firm beliefs; well, so does he. So if they don’t agree, shouldn’t he take time to explain why and try to persuade them, as he did with some of Mr Paxman’s hypothetical people last night?

That just seems an honest, realistic approach to me. Let’s say a real person asked him what Mr Paxman did last night – well, Nick’s said he doesn’t support a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty because it’s too minor, but he does want a referendum on the far more important issue of whether we should be in the European Union at all. And he’s got his firm conviction that the answer is “yes,” but is prepared to make the case and put that to the test. Now, I disagree with Nick on the Lisbon Treaty – I think there should be a referendum – but I agree with him that it’s a much less important change to our constitution than the Single European Act (where Mrs Thatcher refused a referendum) or the Maastricht Treaty (where John Major refused a referendum, and only the Liberal Democrats voted to have one). I also agree with Nick that ‘in or out’ is a far more important issue than either of those. And the only major party advocating giving the British people that key decision on the European Union is the Liberal Democrats.

By the way, I was part of a bunch of people interviewing Nick last night just after Jeremy Paxman did, and he does remember Mrs Thatcher: he told us he got involved with politics to stand against the callous, bossy, unjust politics she stood for. Mr Cameron, instead, got involved with politics to become one of Mrs Thatcher’s foot-soldiers. So I just don’t get why you claim you’ve suddenly decided to swing to the Tories. If you’d like to try and persuade me, please do.
Clegg has appointed Brian Eno as an advisor. And accustomed as he may well be with Roxy Music founder Brian Ferry’s alleged admiration for things Nazi from the depths of his Führerbunker, he well not only know what he is talking about and could possibly serve as the conscience the Liberal Democrat Party took leave of quite a while ago…

Mr Eno is on record as stating: “No, I haven’t been particularly political in the past and I would happily not be political now. But I think it came from one book I read, called “Defying Hitler” by Sebastian Haffner in which he describes how Germany in the 1920s slid, quite unconsciously, into fascism. And, while I’m certainly not making any comparisons between Blair and Bush and the Nazis – I don’t want to give that impression at all – I’m just saying that it’s easy for things to slide out of control. It’s actually very easy for democracy to disappear. It’s important to be engaged.”

All of which is hopefully why Mr Eno will encourage Clegg to boot Jenny Tonge out of the Liberal Democrats. It’s so easy, you see, for things to slide out of control and for democracy to disappear. Yes, indeedy…
So your idea of stopping democracy disappearing is to “boot out” dissenters. Well, that’s original, at least, but (jack-)boots trouble my conscience. Oh, and to call them a fascist. Which, whatever you think of Jenny, is simply bollocks. Do you by any chance live under a bridge…?
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