Nick Clegg’s speech to conference: what I’ll be looking out for

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nick cleggHuhne, Pryce, Rennard, Eastleigh. A mass of events converge this weekend as Brighton once again becomes centre of the Lib Dem universe for a weekend.

These topics will inevitably dominate conversations in the conference bar. But when Nick Clegg stands up on Sunday lunchtime to make his speech he has to look beyond the short-term events that have dominated Liberal Democrat discourse for the last few weeks and months.

It’s often said of a speeches that they are “one of the most important X has made in the course of his leadership”. Generally, though, conference speeches come and go, with no real lasting impression left either on those in the room or on the public more widely.

Nick Clegg doesn’t this weekend have to make the speech of his life. He doesn’t need to rouse the party to march to the sound of gunfire (not least because Eastleigh showed we’re already doing that rather well).

The one thing I will be looking for in Nick’s speech above all else is context.

Earlier this year I examined in some detail the party’s messaging strategy, suggesting ways in which we can flesh out the “stronger economy, fairer society” soundbite into a distinctive, thorough, liberal platform on which we will stand in 2015.

This speech is Clegg’s opportunity to begin doing so. The consistency demonstrated so far in selling the basic message needs to be matched by an account of how it fits with the Liberal Democrats as a party, in coalition, in 2013.

Actually, then, soaring rhetoric and applause-inducing soundbites are not what I will be looking for. They might look good on the evening’s news, but their wider benefit is questionable.

I’m looking for some depth. A speech that sets the context for the role that Clegg sees the Liberal Democrats playing in British politics. That gives a vision of what a distinctively liberal approach to economics looks like, and exactly how that fits with a liberal, socially just society.

2015 is fast approaching, and repeating a catchphrase – important as that is – will not be sufficient. Clegg needs to draw together the threads of the party’s experiences in coalition and tell us his view of what the future holds for our party.

* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.

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3 Comments

  • Bill le Breton 9th Mar '13 - 10:34am

    Nick, one can only agree with your conclusion that the Leader should give a vision of what a distinctively liberal approach to economics looks like, and exactly how that fits with a liberal, socially just society.

    The economy and economic matters remain the most important issues to voters, according to Ipsos Mori’s latest issues poll. The greatest proportion (34%) said that the economy was the single most important issue, with a further 12% putting unemployment/factory closure as the most important issue.

    So, when he already had knowledge of the contents of Vince Cable’s articles in the New Statement this week and had not opposed their publication, and when Cable in them set out a distinctive Liberal Democrat position on the economy, did he fail to back them, traduced them and sided with the Prime Minister?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/mar/07/clegg-cable-borrowing-capital-investment

  • Paul in Twickenham 9th Mar '13 - 9:48pm

    Tonight’s opinion poll in The Observer puts the Liberal Democrats on 8%, while UKIP are on 17%. It gives Nick Clegg a personal rating of -53%.

    Mr. Clegg’s personal approval rating is considerably worse than the -43% enjoyed by Richard Nixon on August 2nd, 1974 – a week before he resigned. And that’s on a poll taking a week *after* the Eastleigh by-election.

    I have read the various missives from MPs on the front page of this website today and you know what? I no longer know what it is that Liberals actually believe in.

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