Calamity-free Clegg

September 18, 2008 at 11:06 pm | Posted in British Politics | Leave a comment
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I know this is sacrilege in some circles, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the Lib Dems. I voted for them in the first two elections I was eligible for, once helped a friend deliver their fliers around our college (though I seem to remember him promising to buy me a pint afterwards), and was even a party member from the ages of 16-17 (my membership fee came out of my McDonalds wages, and there was only so long I was going to stick at that). So I think I’m just about capable of approaching their leader not Charles Kennedy Nick Clegg’s speech without the usual spoonfuls of leftwing prejudice.

This is just a minor quibble, but I really hate the format the speech took. Ever since Cameron delivered his Tory leadership speech ‘without notes!’ there’s been some strange acceptance that wandering around a stage looking a little bit lost makes a politician appear like an ordinary bloke speaking off the cuff about his vision for the future. It doesn’t. Look, he’s still wearing a tailored suit. He’s still speaking words that have been written & re-written to target specific voter blocks. And if he forgets his lines, he can still refer to a teleprompter. There’s nothing this format buys you except maybe a column inch in a newspaper, and it probably loses you a lot of those people who’re able to spot how stage-managed it is.

That said, the content & the delivery were excellent. He didn’t speak in abstractions, didn’t appear to trade in focus-group slogans and spoke directly & emotively about the real hardships (note to Gordon: this sounds better than ‘challenges’) lots of us are facing right now. At various points he seemed genuinely pissed-off by the state of our politics, and when you consider that most of the country shares the same gut disgust, that can only help his ‘shares our values’ rating. Right now, Labour would kill for someone who could present their party as well as Clegg presented the Lib Dems.

As for the whole ‘tacking to the right’/’cuts in tax & spending’ thing, well that’s a little more complicated. There are two competing dynamics at play here: the first being the quite genuine belief that tax cuts on lower-to-middle income earners would be the most effective way of helping us shop for groceries without having panic attacks, and the other being the ever-present concerns about electoral politics, and how to stave-off a conservative resurgence without losing those seats they took off Labour. Personally, this is the kind of thing I’d take with a pinch of salt until election time. The recession creates so much uncertainty about the state’s finances at the moment (how much they’ll take in tax revenue, how much of a burden unemployment will create, etc etc) that even if Clegg/Cable had produced a detailed, fully-costed plan of how they could achieve all they promised, it’d still be obsolete by election time.

But don’t let anyone fool you; the Liberal Democrats are still in pretty good shape, at least compared to the competition.

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