“On message. In volume. Over time.” That’s the real text of Nick Clegg’s speech today

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Double Clegg 2 - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsIt took 3,000+ words and Nick Clegg 30 minutes to deliver them — but there was only one message he wanted to be heard in his leader’s speech today:

Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

That’s the core message, one that’s been tested in polling and was tested in real polling in Eastleigh. And it’s the message the party leadership wants the party to get sick of repeating ad infinitum for the next two years in the hope its drip-drip-drip will gradually resonate with the wider public.

And in case you didn’t get it first time, Nick repeated it, making sure that we knew he was repeating it:

Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life. Get used to those words, Conference. Get used to saying them. That’s the message I need you to deliver across the country. I need you to explain it to people each and every day, from now, for the next two years and beyond. Tell them that only the Liberal Democrats have the values and ideas to build a better future. Tell them that only we can deliver the stronger economy and fairer society Britain needs.

As Nick’s strategy advisor, Ryan Coetzee, has described it before, and did so again mid-speech today:

The message may not excite Lib Dem activists — it seems to some to be splitting-the-difference between us and the Labour/Conservative parties, defining us in opposition to them — but, then, it’s not really intended for core Lib Dem voters. It’s a message aimed squarely at the persuadable, floating voters, those currently saying they’ll vote for another party but who may switch and those who are genuinely unsure what they’ll do next time round.

It strikes me as plausible. It certainly strikes me that it’s good the party has a clear, tested message and is determined to stick to it: this slogan is for a parliament, not just a conference. After all, remember Nick Clegg’s slogan this time last year? “We are the One Nation party” was Nick’s theme in March 2012. Used once and discarded, it was later picked up by Ed Miliband who has sought to make it his own and define the party around it.

This year’s speech was bound going to be tough-going for Nick. Many in the conference hall were angry at the party leadership’s flouting of conference wishes on ‘secret courts’, and (as I explained here) in particular the way in which the leadership has ignored the party membership.

Nick didn’t change his speech to accommodate this morning’s defeat of his position. Instead, he stuck resolutely to his message: Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life. The problem for Nick is that he needs eager volunteers willing to deliver that message, just as hundreds, thousands, did with such enthusiasm at Eastleigh — and his actions this weekend have made that less, not more, likely to happen.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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19 Comments

  • Peter Hayes 10th Mar '13 - 2:39pm

    I don’t know how it sounded in the hall, but watching on TV the response from the delegates seemed rather subdued.

  • mike cobley 10th Mar '13 - 2:49pm

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, benefit claimants of all kinds find themselves under threat of sanctions all the way up to denial of any benefit support – a neo-Soviet authoritarianism which seems to sit very well with the readers of the Daily Mail. Wouldn’t have happened with support of Liberal Democrats.

  • mike cobley 10th Mar '13 - 2:50pm

    …without support….doh

  • Is losing our AAA & a double-dip recession evidence of this ‘stronger economy’ ?

  • Tony Greaves 10th Mar '13 - 3:41pm

    I am fairly sick of this message already! How does it describe in any way what this party stands for? The idea that everyone in the party is going to spend the next two years repeating this like robots seems fanciful.

    As for a “stronger” economy, I will believe in this when the moves from some quarters in the party, to distance ourselves from the government’s disastrous programme of austerity and hammering the poorest people more than the majority of us, become the party’s message.

    An economy is like an army marching. It’s as strong as the slowest donkey.

    How about a “fairer” economy as well?

    Tony Greaves

  • Richard Harris 10th Mar '13 - 3:46pm

    What does “in volume” mean?

  • Tony Dawson 10th Mar '13 - 4:09pm

    ” Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life. The problem for Nick is that he needs eager volunteers willing to deliver that message, just as hundreds, thousands, did with such enthusiasm at Eastleigh — and his actions this weekend have made that less, not more, likely to happen.”

    Including this part of his speech:

    “We won in Eastleigh because we’re in power – locally and nationally. ”

    Being 50 per cent right is better than being not right at all, I suppose. But the half that is wrong is possibly far more dangerous than the half that is right is empowering.

  • Bill le Breton 10th Mar '13 - 6:46pm

    I continue to worry that this line over-claims at this moment in time – a cardinal sin in political communication. Its apparent incredibility ensures it cannot gain traction.

    YouGov poll 3rd and 4th March:
    Thinking about the way the Government is cutting spending to reduce the deficit, do you think this is being done fairly or unfairly?
    Fairly: 26%
    Unfairly: 59%
    D/K: 15%
    and
    Thinking about the next two or three years, how
    worried are you that people like you will..
    not have enough money to live comfortably
    Total worried 68%
    Not worried 29%

    Please will someone from the message factory come here and explain why I am wrong.

  • “I am fairly sick of this message already! ”

    Whatever criticisms you can make – that should not be one of them!

    I got pretty fed up of penny on tax for education 🙂

  • Richard Harris 10th Mar '13 - 9:57pm

    Still don’t know what “in volume” means….Anyone?

  • In volume should mean something like “in substantial quantities,” but one suspects that someone at the office thinks it means “loudly.”

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '13 - 9:21am

    Stephen Tall

    It’s a message aimed squarely at the persuadable, floating voters, those currently saying they’ll vote for another party but who may switch and those who are genuinely unsure what they’ll do next time round.

    Are there any? Well, I’m sure there are – far fewer people are firm committed supporters of one political party than used to be the case years ago – but are they floating towards the Liberal Democrats?

    It strikes me that Clegg is doing what he thinks needs to be done to be “a politician” here, rather than what he would know needs to be done if he worked the streets. People DON’T WANT politicians standing up boasting about themselves, which is what Clegg was doing here, they find it offputting. As I’ve said elsewhere, the contradiction between the exaggerated boasts about our achievements coming from our leadership and the reality of what people are experiencing from this government makes us look ridiculous.

    We can be pleased about Eastleigh because it suggests we are not going to be wiped out as some pollsters have predicted with their usual assumptions about uniform swings. However, all that result really says is that we can hang on to some of our seats when we have a very strong local party. In how many other places do we have a local party so strong that every councillor in the constituency comes from it? None. So really winning Eastleigh is no different from hanging on to a few places where we had local strength in the days when the party was in steep decline in the middle of the 20th century.

    Clegg is claiming that our being “in government” nationally was a contributing factor to us retaining Eastleigh. Was it? Can anyone provide evidence of it? Can anyone prove we held Eastleigh because rather than despite being “in government”?

    I wish we could drop this phrase “in government”. People think of it as it was used in the days of single party government. So they think of it meaning we support everything this government is doing. It’s a largely Tory government. I very much hope a largely Liberal Democrats government would be doing things very differently were it in place now. But nothing I hear from Clegg and the leadership convinces me of this. The boasting isn’t working, not just because people are put off in general by this sort of political approach, but also because it is giving the impression we have become Conservatives in all but name. That is why I keep saying – and have been saying since the coalition was formed – that we must make clear we were very disappointed by the 2010 general election result, having just 57 MPs and being a junior coalition partner is NOT the fulfillment of our dreams, we have done what we can in those circumstances but it is not much, and we can only do what we really want, which is very different from what this government is doing, if we have many more MPs. Saying this is not the same as saying we should not have formed the coalition or being some sort of fantasist who cannot accept reality – although that is the line constantly thrown at us by Clegg and his clique. While arguing the boasting way they talk of the coalition is all wrong, I have always, and still do, defended its formation, not because it was my ideal but because it was all that could be obtained from what the people voted for and the distortions of that vote by the electoral system in 2010.

    I don’t think the secret courts thing will have a big impact. This is one of those specialists issues which a few liberal-minded people get very worked up about, but mist ordinary people couldn’t care much about because they don;t see it as having an impact on their lives. It is important that we take a principled stand on such things, but if that is ALL we are about, we should not expect to get much of a share of the vote, it appeals only to people who live very comfortable lives so they an worry about finer issues of principles like this rather than about how they will pay their bills and whether they will have jobs and so on.

    We need to stop going on about “the mess left by Labour” because that makes us sound like Tories. Our country is not in a mess just because of the last Labour government. It is in a mess because of the Conservative governments before that. They set us on the path of being too reliant on financial services. They destroyed the work and industry mentality by allowing industrial decline to wreck so many communities. They established a “greed is good” and “dog-eat-dog” mentality” which destroyed the pride in service and co-operation which was actually the guarantor of good service. They made short-term decisions, such as selling off council housing, which looked good at the time, but had long term consequences which are costly and socially destructive.

    Clegg’s speech has done nothing to persuade me to come back and campaign for the party as I have in every general election so far in my adult life. I feel the image he is putting across is a hindrance to our success rather than a help,

  • Dave Simpson 11th Mar '13 - 9:36am

    @Matthew
    At least part of the problemis the continuing adherence to the pernicious doctrine of ‘Collective Cabinet Responsibility’ which may be appropriate to a single-party government, or even a wartime coalition, but is singularly insppropriate for the marriage of convenience (or more accurately necesssity) that is the present Coalition. Government members of either Party should be free to point out areas of government policy with which they disagree, and have voted against in Cabinet (e.g. tuition fees?) And bacbenchers ahouldbe positively encouraged to.

  • If Clegg want to deliver support on that message, he first needs to demonstrate that the Libs can deliver either. Instead, the Liberals have supported disastrous Tory economic policy that has crippled growth in this country; and backed extremely regressive social policy. We’ve seen a massive squeeze on the poorest in society, an increase in inequality and it’s carrying on getting worse with the ‘bedroom tax’ and so on. All without a squeak of public protest from the Lib Dems. No doubt the Liberals have made things a *little* better than they would have been with a pure blue government but it’s not a compelling case to deliver to the electorate.

  • Richard Harris 11th Mar '13 - 1:50pm

    @ David.
    Thanks for the help. I now consider myself “in understanding”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Mar '13 - 12:40am

    jedibeeftrix

    The lib-dem’s could have opted to control (a few) particular departments as their own fiefdoms, and demanded certain policy pledges in departments they would not control, instead they chose to opt for electoral credibility by taking a large number of number 2 slots right across government departments.

    How would that solve the problem? The Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers for the departments that would be LibDem fiefdoms in you scheme would still be expected to show complete support for everything else coming from the government under the “collective responsibility” notion. So what you are actually suggesting is that Liberal Democrats would be expected to show full support for policies they had no part in developing and are purely Tory.

    In practice, the current government seems to me to be what one would expect from its composition – if you put 57 LibDems and 303 Tories in a room and ask them to vote on policies, what you’d get would be mainly Tory, but where the Tories were half-and-half on a policy you would see it pushed to the half which the LibDems would prefer. The electoral system is doing what its supporters in the 2011 referendum said it does – exaggerates the representation of the largest party and diminishes that of third parties in order to give a coherent government. That’s what we’ve got now, even if it didn’t quite give the Tories a full majority, in effect it meant we got a government which might as well be Tory. Anyone who didn’t like that had a chance to indicate so by voting to support electoral reform – I appreciate AV is not proportional representation, but had it been supported it would have been taken as a sign of dissatisfaction with the current system. The people of this country backed the current system by two to one, they turned down even the small change that is AV, and in doing so they voted to say “Yes, what we want right now is a Tory-dominated government”. If you vote for the principle of distorting support in favour of the biggest party and against third parties, you’re voting for a Tory government right now. All those who voted “No” were propping up the Tories far more than the Liberal Democrats are. The Liberal Democrats are simply working in a system they disagree with but have to co-operate with because it’s what is there, the “No” voters were giving active support to that system and hence the Tory dominated government it gave us. I say this again and again because I want to make it quite clear to all those Labour Party people who voted “No”, all those Labour Party MPs who actively campaigned for “No”, that in doing so they were doing the equivalent of donning “I love Maggie” badges, they were doing the equivalent of putting an X against the word “Conservative” and they have NO MORAL RIGHT to complain about the LibDems “propping up the Tories”.

    All I am asking is that the Liberal Democrat leadership stops this line they have used since the coalition was formed that it’s a great success for us, the fulfillment of our dreams. It isn’t. What I want is an honest acceptance that the Tories won the last election, due to the way people voted and the electoral system, the Liberal Democrats were left with just a small influence, and having that sort of small influence isn’t a great success and it isn’t the fulfillment of our dreams. And I want, which it doesn’t seem to be unreasonable to ask the leader of the Liberal Democrats to provide, the message to go out “If you want a more Liberal Democrat government, you have to vote Liberal Democrat”. If our dreams are fulfilled by having 57 MPs, if the resulting government is as perfect as it could be, which is the message Nick Clegg and Paddy Ashdown are pushing, why should anyone outside LibDem held-constituencies vote LibDem, since the Clegg/Ashdown line is, in effect, “we don’t need any more LibDem MPs”.

    I appreciate we can hardly expect Liberal Democrat MPs to come out of cabinet meetings and immediately slag off the government and say it’s getting things all wrong. But I would say the collective responsibility notion should mean they can come out and say the government policy it reached was a compromise. I don’t think it should stop them from saying a different compromise would have been reached had there been more LibDems is government and fewer Tories. I don’t think it means they have to praise the policies coming out of the government as if they were the best policies that could ever have come out regardless of political composition. It seems to me that’s nonsense, since we all know that different people have different opinions, we all know that even when the ministers sitting round the cabinet table are all of one party they don’t have entirely identical opinions. So why can’t we be honest and say: democracy is about meeting together and coming to a compromise? The compromise will obviously be shaped by the balance of opinions coming together. If you want it to be more Liberal Democrat, you need to have more Liberal Democrats in the balance.

  • But Matthew, it’s not “57 Lib Dems and 303 Tories in a room.” It’s 57 Lib Dems, 303 Tories, 256 Labour, and 34 others. And that ought to give the Lib Dems a great deal of power — whenever they agree with Labour more than with the Tories, or at least with a substantial number of Labour MPs combined with members of other parties, they ought to be able to use that fact to sway the government — if not to a wholehearted endorsement of Lib Dem policies, then at least to a prevention of harmful Conservative policies.

    And yet that hasn’t happened. One can, of course, blame archaic codes of Cabinet and parliamentary conduct which, for some reason, prevent the views of a majority of MPs from becoming law and policy. One can feel that the Liberal Democratic leadership are caught in a trap from which they have no effective means of escape; they can neither effectively oppose the Tories from within government, nor threaten to leave government, nor cooperate with other parties against Tory policy. And such feelings have some plausibility.

    But they are not, on an emotional level at least, any more plausible than the notion that Liberal Democrat MPs are supporting Consevative policies because they fundamentally agree with them, and that they are little else than soft Tories at heart. This feeling becomes all the stronger when the Lib Dems are in a position to make a difference — whether on secret courts or the mansion tax — and they, with seeming deliberation, not only fail to take advantage of that position but use it to enable strikingly contrary policies.

    If such feelings persist, then it won’t be long until a substantial proportion of the active base of the Liberal Democrats comes to feel that the Lib Dem leadership are the enemy. Combine that with the fact that the leadership have neither delivered key reforms nor high poll numbers, and there is a dangerous vulnerability and a potential crisis, which, I’m afraid, very few are taking seriously.

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