At what point would you have walked out?

There’s an event known as “Not the leader’s speech”, which seems to have gained semi official status in the party. While the leader gives their speech at the end of conference, a group of members meet up at a nearby pub. They follow the coverage of the speech on social media, and discuss at what point they would have walked out, if they had been there.

I’ve never attended “Not the leader’s speech”, but I do have a good deal of admiration for the irreverent approach of this group of members.

I don’t think I have ever actually “walked out of” a speech, in a Lib Dem context or otherwise. But there have been many occasions when I have sat through a speech, but could identify the moment at which perhaps I *should* have walked out. I did not actually attend Spring Conference this year, either in person or online, but I have watched the video of Ed Davey’s speech, and read through the text, several times. I certainly know the moment at which I would have felt like walking out.

Ed began by speaking very movingly of the suffering of the people of Ukraine, and of their heroism. Naturally, I have no criticism of this part of the speech, even though (and I hesitated about whether to write this), I did find myself thinking that I would have preferred to have heard these words spoken by someone who had not previously said publicly that he would be willing to personally “press the nuclear button”.

Perhaps when Ed said “now we must fight for that safer, more liberal world”, I felt uneasy that he had used the word “fight”. I assume that he meant the word metaphorically, in the same way that he later spoke of “fighting to give every child the best possible start in life”. But we do need to be very careful with language in such a dangerous situation. Nevertheless, I fully agreed with all that Ed said about the need to do more for Ukrainian refugees, even though at  times I felt uneasy that Ed was using the plight of refugees to score political points, and vilify Priti Patel.

The next part of the speech, about giving every child the best possible start in life, and about improving health services, and tackling climate change, was fine.

Ed went on to speak of York, where the live event was taking place, its “incredible history, a vibrant culture”. So far, so good. But then…

Now York is also famous for being the final resting place of the notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin. (warning bells).

A serial lawbreaker, who cheated, schemed and bragged his way through life.

Who lied over and over again.

Who thought he could escape any consequences for his actions.

Oh dear. Really, Ed?

The text version of the speech here reads “sounds like someone we know, doesn’t it?” But in the video, there is some laughter from the audience in York, to which Ed just says “I think you’ve got it”.

Dick Turpin was a murderer and a rapist. On one occasion, he broke into a farmhouse, where he raped a woman he found there, and poured boiling water over the elderly farmer. There were other atrocities, including several murders.

Boris Johnson may have attended some parties, at a time when this was against lockdown rules, and may perhaps have misleadingly claimed that these were work events.

Ed then claimed that “If Dick Turpin was around today, I bet Conservative MPs would be on Newsnight explaining why he should be let off.”

He went on “The conservatives love to claim others are soft on crime. The truth is they’re soft on a criminal in number ten”.

Boris Johnson has never been convicted of a crime. The police investigation into the parties is not yet completed. What happened to “innocent until proved guilty”, Ed? And even if Boris is found to have broken lockdown rules, this would hardly make him a “criminal” in the same way that Dick Turpin was a criminal.

I recently wrote an article for Lib Dem voice saying that Boris Johnson should resign for violating human rights through imposing harsh lockdown rules. But the effect of Ed’s speech is to make me rush to Boris’s defence. I doubt if I would have literally “walked out”, if I’d been in York. But this is the point where I would have wanted to.




* Catherine Crosland is a member in Calderdale and joined the party in 2014

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Mark Johnston 16th Mar '22 - 12:02pm

    After all four Davey leader speeches have been silent on Europe, is it any wonder the party’s key metrics are all heading south?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Mar '22 - 12:11pm

    Surely one very original article !

    I completely relate to what Catherine says in it on some points, but the tone and thrust is welcome, and the originality of it!

    Rarely do we get much reflection, that mixes with objection. Usually the reflection is only gentle. Or the objection is wholly harsh.

    Here, we get a real combined approach.

    The nub, Ed overdoes much! I have liked him many years, rated him able, a genuinely good fellow. But he always overdoes the personal invective, in his attack, even if witty or substantive, both! I, unlike Catherine, agree with many of the govts lockdown rules, it is the transgression, the law breaking I object to. But like the view in this piece, I belive the references to Turpin wholly inappropriate, anyway, applied with the description of the current occupiar of number ten, ludicrous as description.

    Ed needs to walk away from this approach, and walk the line between the political and personal more carefully, while as now, yet, displaying confidence, ever Ed’s thing he has in (overly)! big quantities!!

  • He needs a new speechwriter.

  • Obviously I am in the minority or probably the realisation that I am in the wrong party! but I have,over the years, rather grown rather tired of the party I support being the butt of sarcastic and nasty attacks from the two largest party’s,particularly the Conservatives, and when the Lib Dem leader attacks this present administration in his speech, with the same tactics, for which they and their leader, in my opinion, fully deserve, you will not find me attacking his speech, on the contrary I would have been disappointed if he had not been aggressive in his condemnation of their behaviour and performance!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Mar '22 - 12:56pm


    You are in the correct party. I like hunour, and think the speech was humourous at the point that Catherine objects here, to. I do not find it objectionable in the way Catherine does. But I do think it overblown. Ed often outdoes Ian Blacford on the personal, Johnson is horrible, stuff. Johnson is an oafish, bafoon, often. He should have gone over the tawdry show, on parties. But he is not evil or nasty. Patel is draconian and useless, but likewise, no monster. We need a sense of proportion.

    And a good laugh!

  • Barry Lofty 16th Mar '22 - 1:10pm

    Lorenzo: Maybe my total dislike of Johnson and his like does get the better of me on occasions? but I have to admit to enjoying Ed Daveys’ all out attack on this government, what that says about me I don’t know, but if I ever had a chance to confront our PM I would possibly be arrested for crude and abusive language?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Mar '22 - 1:14pm

    p.s. Barry

    You can think the point Ed made a good one, funny, but also on this example, not appropriately so, in alluding to Turpin.

    I worked with the delightful and distinguished actor Michael Jayston, directing him in a film project, a while ago. We chatted and reflected, on things. He is from Nottingham, and I have resided there twenty years. He said how, Robin Hood, is a great figure of focus, for the area and internationally. He said he thinks, though an outlaw, he is wholly different to, and this was his example, Dick Turpin, and in his words,onTurpin, “he was a murderer!”

    Ed is from Notts. He ought to know!

  • Barry Lofty 16th Mar '22 - 1:39pm

    Lorenzo: I take your point Lorenzo, thanks for your communication but I will continue with my utter distaste for the present incumbent in No. 10! By the way we also love the theatre, only as audience members though?

  • I would suggest that walking out isn’t a particularly grown up idea and sometimes says more about the walkers out than the speechmaker.

    Historical facts about ‘Dick Turpin’ are difficult to ascertain, although assize records do confirm that he was unrepresented at his ‘trial’. He was hanged – for horse stealing – not for any of the allegations made by Catherine. IMHO capital punishment is no subject for throw away ‘humour’ in a speech made by a serious liberal politician.

    As for Sir Edward, I tend to agree with Chris Moore. The Turpin reference was unnecessary, gratuitous and could even be construed as some sort of endorsement of capital punishment. This is especially sensitive given the well publicised news that Saudi Arabia had allegedly executed 81 persons the previous day.

    Sir Edward was on better form in his passionate comments from Krakow this morning. I suggest he sticks to that higher level of comment in future.

  • Chris Moore 16th Mar '22 - 4:27pm

    All the stuff about Turpin is so laboured and lacking in wit, apart from being absurd.

  • Mick Taylor 16th Mar '22 - 5:00pm

    Dear me Catherine et al, you need to get a life. I thought Ed’s speech was one of his better ones and I liked the zany humour.
    But honestly, we should be reserving our venom for the other parties, not our leader.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 16th Mar '22 - 5:12pm

    Martin, I think the details of Dick Turpin’s life are relevant. Ed compared Boris Johnson to Dick Turpin, so it is relevant whether there is any resemblance between them, and whether the comparison is fair. Dick Turpin was a hardened criminal, guilty of several violent, brutal atrocities. Boris, despite his flaws, has never been convicted of a crime. The comparison was therefore inappropriate and offensive. I realise it may have been supposed to be a sort of joke, but it wasn’t in any way funny.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 16th Mar '22 - 5:22pm

    Lorenzo, thank you for your comments. I think you understand what I was trying to say in this article (the word limit meant that the article had to end rather abruptly, without being able to spell things out).
    I’ve felt for some time that Ed spends too much time making personal attacks on Boris Johnson, and other Conservative politicians. On the whole, personal attacks should be avoided. Boris Johnson should be criticised for his policies, and what he has done, or failed to do, in office, rather than for flaws in his charactor or personal life.
    Obviously there are times when the personal does become relevant. If the investigation finds that he did break lockdown rules, then it would be reasonable to call for his resignation for this. But personal criticism must be fair, and based on facts. It is wrong to refer to someone as a “criminal”, when they have never been convicted of a crime. It is certainly wrong to compare them to an especially evil criminal with whom they have nothing in common

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 16th Mar '22 - 5:43pm

    Chris Moore, I hadn’t really thought about the “speechwriter” aspect, although presumably Ed Davey does have one, or perhaps several. I don’t think its really fair to blame the speechwriter. I assume that Ed would tell the speech writer the points he wants to make, and the tone he is aiming for, and probably a team of advisors would have some input too. I wouldn’t have thought the speech writer would have put in the reference to Dick Turpin unless Ed had approved it (but I don’t know very much about how these things work, and how much freedom the speech writer is given). Anyway, I’m sure Ed would be able to veto anything in the speech that he wasn’t happy with.

  • Peter Watson 16th Mar '22 - 6:27pm

    @Catherine Jane Crosland “I’ve felt for some time that Ed spends too much time making personal attacks on Boris Johnson, and other Conservative politicians.”
    For quite a while, the Lib Dem strategy seems to involve positioning the party as nice Conservatives, much more like an alternative than an opposition, with little emphasis on policies which distinguish the two parties, so attacking the “nasty Conservative” personalities like Johnson, Gove, Rees-Mogg, etc. would be an important part of that strategy.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 16th Mar '22 - 6:42pm

    Peter Watson, but if we want to be seen as a “nice party”, surely part of being nice is not resorting a personal attacks on political opponents?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 16th Mar '22 - 6:48pm

    Chris Moore, Yes, as well as being offensive and inappropriate, it was also just embarrassing, because as you say it was “laboured”, and not at all funny

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 16th Mar '22 - 6:54pm

    Davis Raw, I agree that capital punishment is not a suitable subject for “humour” by a liberal politician. As liberals, we believe Dick Turpin should not have been executed, however serious his crimes may have been. This is another reason why Ed’s comments were so inappropriate

  • @Catherine Jane Crosland, “I’ve felt for some time that Ed spends too much time making personal attacks on Boris Johnson, and other Conservative politicians.”

    What’s your take on a Guardian report tonight about BoJo’s latest adventure abroad, Catherine Jane ?

    “Maya Foa, joint executive director of legal action NGO Reprieve, has criticised Boris Johnson for choosing to visit Saudi Arabia today, saying she warned him it would be seen as a “tacit approval” of mass execution. She points out that three people were executed today while the prime minister was there”.

  • (sighs as energy and life force drains away reading this article)

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 17th Mar '22 - 5:56am

    David Raw, I think you are right in saying that Boris Johnson should not have gone to Saudi Arabia. But criticising Boris for his decisions and actions as Prime Minister are different from *personal* attacks. Ed Davey’s “joke” about Dick Turpin was just a random personal insult, based not on Boris’s policies or his decisions as Prime Minister, but on some alleged flaws in his personal character

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 17th Mar '22 - 6:11am

    David Raw, also, when I made the remark that you quote, about how I’ve felt for some time that Ed spends too much time making personal attacks on Boris Johnson and other Conservative leaders, I meant not *just* that personal attacks are inappropriate, but that Ed should be focusing on things other than attacking the other parties. His focus should be on setting out a liberal vision for Britain’s future.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 17th Mar '22 - 6:32am

    Mick, I didn’t intend there to be *venom* in my article. In all fairness, you just wrote an article comparing the party to North Korea! 🙂
    The party is not in fact North Korea, so we are free to criticise the leader’s speech.
    You may have found Ed’s humour “zany”. But I found it, as Chris Moore said “laboured and lacking in wit”.
    Random personal insults about political opponents is not a good look for the party.

  • I’d like our Party to be more caring and compassionate in its language. There’s lots we can’t influence and caring is the least we can offer. The country seems to have become very cynical when there is plenty of kind actions going on. We should celebrate them.

  • Nigel Quinton 17th Mar '22 - 11:29am

    A great article, well done for speaking up on this.

    Personally I was quite shocked, but also heartened that Ed is publicly calling BJ a criminal. I believe his actions and inactions in 2020 cost the lives of tens of thousands of people in this country (as well documented by #PeoplesCovidInquiry) and he should be charged with criminal negligence. However, and it is a big however, the comparison to Turpin was crass, clunky and offensive.

    We demand better!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 17th Mar '22 - 12:24pm

    Peter Hirst, I agree, and that’s one reason why I was unhappy about the tone of parts of Ed’s speech. We should be trying to build a kinder society, and part of this should mean being kinder in the way we speak of, and to, political opponents. There are times when anger is justified, and should be expressed, but even then, we should try to criticise policies, rather than making personal attacks on individuals

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Mar '22 - 12:30pm


    Your response to David, like his humane point, too, on capital punishment, is not, in my opinion, wholly true, historically, perhaps even now, if appied universally.

    I think, morally, one could support capital punishment for the most hideous premediated murderers, but also support Liberalism and democracy with both. For john Stuart Mill, did. So too, Charles Dickens, though a Liberal, and an opponent of public execution, had little to add to the debate about stopping hanging in general.

    I have little moral objection to it for the premiditated murder it is applied to in most countries that are democracies historically. I am against it, in practice, as the wrong person is executed , in certain cases. But I never have related to the outcry over some horrific criminals being hung or when they admit guilt, known to be the muderer.

  • Barry Lofty 17th Mar '22 - 1:09pm

    I take exception to the inference that because I dislike the present PM and his performance whilst in office and previously, and make my feelings known as to how I feel about him personally, it does not make me an uncaring or unkindly individual, I am certainly not a perfect human being but I hope I am not entirely without empathy! Sometimes individuals are the instigators of bad policies and should be held personally responsible for them and for their bad behaviour.

  • Jason Connor 17th Mar '22 - 4:24pm

    I don’t think you can single out one person for Covid deaths in 2020 otherwise you would hold politicians to account in other countries where deaths occurred in high numbers such as Italy etc. It was a very new situation, the government got some things right like the vaccination programme, free food boxes for those of us on low incomes but others wrong eg testing and the nepotism of awarding contracts. I see absolutely nothing wrong with ‘harsh lockdown rules’ (though they were not always enforced) without which the death toll from Covid and number of infections would have been higher and it was only when the vaccine programme was rolled out that number of cases started to decrease. I continue to wear my face mask in enclosed public spaces with pride and feel very empowered doing do.

    But I would agree that it’s not necessary for Mr Davey to personally insult another politician or Mr Johnson accusing him of being a criminal, by way of a comparison to Dick Turpin. Neither is it acceptable for other parties to attack each other in an insulting, personal way. Two wrongs don’t make a right. There is too much online hate speech fuelled by social media and we don’t want more verbal or physical intimidation of MPs, Councillors and people in public service.

  • David Garlick 17th Mar '22 - 5:09pm

    Great speech for those of us who do not know the detailed history of Dick Turpin,! I would suspect that is vast majority of the public. I thought it was very good, had lots of content worthy of the wider public and was directed mostly at the public. I found this piece to be written to provoke what followed in the responses rather than a thoughtful item looking at its overall effectiveness. Opportunity for nit pickers to get their thoughts on ‘paper;. No sympathy for Boris at any time from me as he is a very bad person. You can please some of the people some of the time…

  • Peter Watson 18th Mar '22 - 9:50pm

    @David Garlick “its overall effectiveness”
    But was the speech effective?
    The only comments by Ed Davey that I recall seeing reported in the last few days were about too many new homes planned in Surrey. If I search for “ed davey dick turpin” in Google News, the only relevant result is the text of the speech on Mark Pack’s website. A wider Google search returns this page, along with the Mark Pack page and another on this site which quotes Davey’s speech.
    So if the rest of the world has not noticed the speech, its effectiveness must be judged by how successfully it united Lib Dems around their leader’s message; this article and the thread below suggests that it might not have done that very well.

  • Barry Lofty 19th Mar '22 - 8:55am

    Plenty of media coverage of Ed Daveys’ attack on Priti Patels’ handling of the Ukrainian refugee crisis!!!

  • Alex Macfie 21st Mar '22 - 6:33pm

    Oh dear, this article and some of the responses to it expose a critical problem in our party, too often willing to ‘turn the other cheek’ when attacked. Too many of us see politics as a genteel parlour game when our opponents treat it as a fight to the end. So we tend to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules even when our opponents clearly do not, so end up like Brickley Paiste against Bob Roberts. Trouble is that the Bob Robertses tend to win against the Brickley Paistes. Attacking the likes of Johnson and Patel for making the country and the world less kind is therefore not just a wise move politically, but a moral necessity. So nitpicking about exactly what Dick Turpin is alleged to have done and his eventual fate is really missing the point. Ed’s comparison of Johnson with Turpin gives us publicity, and it reflects what opponents of the tories tend to think of Johnson.

    BTW I wouldn’t normally make an issue about how to address people, but “Mr Davey” is an incorrect address for a Knight of the Realm. “Sir Ed Davey”, “Sir Ed” (NOT “Sir Davey”!) or even just “Ed” are fine, but you don’t “Mr” a “Sir”.

  • Oh dear, as an unreconstructed radical, it’s probably better if I hold my tongue somewhat on the issue of the plethora of Lib Dem knighthoods.

    I’d merely gently say, from feedback on the doorstep in the past, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing – even for ‘political and public services.

    The Scottish poet says it much better than I can :
    “The man o’ independent mind,
    He looks an’ laughs at a’ that”.

  • Brad Barrows 21st Mar '22 - 10:04pm

    To reference a football analogy, too much of politics is ‘playing the man rather than playing the ball’ and the average voter does not like it. I understand that when so many policy positions appear similar across the mainstream parties, political campaigning does tend to turn towards personality politics, but I do wish the Liberal Democrats would champion a different course. Focus on ideas to improve life and people may listen; focus on name-calling others – even if deserving of criticism – and expect voters to turn away in disgust.

  • Alex Macfie 22nd Mar '22 - 6:49am

    One more thing: DCHB. Don’t Call Him B*ris

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Mar '22 - 12:01pm

    Alex Macfie
    I am more than happy not to call any public figures by their made-up-for-public-image names, whether that be “Boris” or “Sir”…

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