Nick Clegg’s speech: 5 initial thoughts from me – and reaction from members and pundits

Nick Clegg has just delivered his seventh conference speech – you can read it here. Five quick thoughts from me:

1. It’s rare to remember party leaders’ speeches. However, I’ve a feeling this one will be remembered. Not necessarily stylistically — its rhetoric or his delivery — but for a government policy announcement: the emphasis on mental health-care which Nick made a centre-piece and which he has said will be on the front page of the party’s manifesto. Yes, there were plenty of positioning soundbites. But, more importantly, this announcement demonstrated, better than any finely crafted words, the point of Lib Dems being in government: to put liberal values (tolerance, respect, fairness) into action.

2. That Nick Clegg gave this speech at all – and that it was well-received within the hall — deserves a mention. After all, just four months ago Nick Clegg was under fire from many within his party (yes, including me) following the party’s dire results in the local and European elections. Yet here he was today, closing a conference that everyone has commented upon was strikingly upbeat, and rewarded with a genuine standing ovation. That doesn’t mean everything within the party is suddenly rosy, far from it, but Nick’s buoyant performance this week is some contrast to the red-eyed, exhausted Nick of a matter of weeks ago.

3. Clegg has, undoubtedly, been helped by the Lib Dem conference following Labour and the Tories. Labour’s week was flat, Miliband’s speech a disaster for him. The Tories’ was jubilant, Cameron’s speech a triumph for him. In their different ways, they’ve helped remind Lib Dems why our party exists. For all the policy overlap we have with Labour, they just do not look like a government-in-waiting. The opposite is true of the Tories: little remaining policy overlap and all too obviously waiting to be a government free of the Lib Dems.

4. Yet there is a paradox about the Lib Dems position, or at least Nick Clegg’s. The nakedly anti-Tory positioning of senior ministers, from Clegg down, has not been faked. There is genuine scorn for the Tories’ rightward tilt – banging on about Europe, immigration and benefits again — but still there is a clear sense that Clegg would rather spend another five years disagreeing vigorously with Cameron than five years broadly agreeing with Miliband.

5. At its heart, this was a plea in favour of Lib Dems not turning their backs on being in government. Clegg made his pitch in a way cannily designed to appeal to Lib Dems’ anti-establishment instincts: “what the [Establishment] vested interests would relish most is to eject us from office before our time is up”. He feels he has grown-up through being in government; and that it’s only through being in government that parties learn how to deliver for their voters. Even if this was his last major conference speech as leader, he wants that message to resonate.

That’s what I thought – here’s what some of you thought…

And here’s what the pundits had to say…

* 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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  • A lot of talk about fairness. But I’m struggling to see much difference between Cameron and Clegg on economic policy. Lib Dems would raise taxes a little, whereas the Tories would eliminate the deficit purely through spending cuts. The Tories want to prioritise the better off for tax cuts, the Lib Dems want to raise the basic threshold to give everyone a little bit. But nothing on reform. What about finance? Did the 2008 crash never happen? What about the landbanking property developers? The private monopolies running public services. More generally the people who run our major companies rewarding themselves extravagantly for just monitoring the short term share price and not investing.

    Why are the Lib Dems silent on all this? They may not agree with a Thatcherite society but they obviously believe the myths about the wonders of a Thatcherite economy.

  • “there is a clear sense that Clegg would rather spend another five years disagreeing vigorously with Cameron than five years broadly agreeing with Miliband”
    Is there a single person who thinks that this is a position that will win votes?

  • Not one word on the green tax’s you will inflict upon the people of this country Not one word how you plan t cope with 200,000+ net immigration per year or how going to cut it. As bad as Ed’s and David’s avoiding answers

  • Whatever he says or does, it’s a lost cause, his record is anathema in the country

  • “there is a clear sense that Clegg would rather spend another five years disagreeing vigorously with Cameron than five years broadly agreeing with Miliband”
    Is there a single person who thinks that this is a position that will win votes?

    I doubt it.

    Clegg still seems to believe in the illusion of lots of centre ground voters who will come out to vote for something that is a bit less than Cameron and a bit less than Miliband.
    He seems to have learned nothing from his election disaster in May.

  • This party needs the balance of power like a hole in the head. It needs to have time, maybe 2 – 3 years, to regroup in the tranquil peace of an opposition bench which it will have just enough MPs to occupy. Another period of coalition government and it will be destroyed., just as it has been already in many areas, towns and cities. I guess the results in the two parliamentary elections tomorrow will bring everyone back to fulsome reality.

  • @ John Tilley

    It’s hard to characterise your comments as portraying a glass half empty kind of outlook. More like glass emptied, then smashed to bits perhaps.

    In my view, it was a great, uplifting speech. The problem will be the lens through which it will be portrayed.

    Telegraph: “Lib Dems may have no voice in UK politics after election, says Clegg” (Er, no he doesn’t actually).

    Daily Heil. “Clegg free school meals farce” (No main course i.e. actual conference coverage but small helping of sour grapes from a nasty right wing rag).

    Daily Mirror: “Al Murray hits out at Nick Clegg after Lib Dem leader uses his Briti-ish routine in conference speech”. (Presumably John Tilley backs Al to the hilt in his criticisms there).

    If we can get over the 10% mark in the polls as a result of the coverage, it will have been worth it, but there is a huge, long haul in winning back all the millions of voters we’ve lost. Hopefully, at last, this is the start of that process.

  • paul barker 8th Oct '14 - 5:31pm

    I think we should stick with having our Conference last, its hard to see the Tories becoming less divided or extreme or Labour less divided or depressed.
    Of course Nicks speech was mostly to us, in the Hall or huddled over our screens. It was also full of juicy soundbites for the MSM, if they care to use them.
    Most of the comments on this thread will attack Clegg & repeat (& repeat) that we are doomed, lets ignore them & go into this Election with our heads held high.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Oct '14 - 5:41pm

    The press have started to attack us to prevent a conference bounce. Telegraph are running a quiz comparing us to the monster raving loony party. Unfortunately, some of the motions passed at this conference and down the years are being used against us. They won’t attack our serious politicians, they are aiming for the beards and sandals brigade.

  • David Evershed 8th Oct '14 - 5:49pm

    Better to be in a coalition with Conservatives where Lib Dems fight for more welfare spending than …………..
    in a coalition with Labour where Lib Dems would have to fight to stop spending plans that would crash the economy again.

  • RC — you say
    “….Al Murray hits out at Nick Clegg after Lib Dem leader uses his Briti-ish routine in conference speech”.
    (Presumably John Tilley backs Al to the hilt in his criticisms there).”

    I am old enough to remember the routine by Jonathan Miller in Beyond the Fringe (early 1960s before Clegg was born).
    Who was very amusing saying ” I am not so much a J*w as J*wish” etc

    I assume that this joke was plagiarised by Al Murray, who was in turn plagiarised by Clegg.
    So no I would not back either of them to the hilt.

    As to glasses being half empty etc my comment was — Clegg still seems to believe in the illusion of lots of centre ground voters who will come out to vote for something that is a bit less than Cameron and a bit less than Miliband.
    He seems to have learned nothing from his election disaster in May.
    Are you saying that this conference speech indicated something else? Are you expecting a huge increase in voter support as a result of this speech? Do you think one mire deposit will be saved as a result of this speech?

    I have never been a fan of leaders’ speeches at the end of conferences, not from any leader. Minor reminders of Nuremberg always pop into my head. I think the last one I sat through in the Hall was Paddy Ashdown’s in 1992 which I think ended with over the top music, fireworks and bunting and balloons falling from the ceiling as if it was New Year’s Eve in a middle ranking hotel.

    For those that like that sort of thing – good luck to them if it makes them feel happier than they were beforehand – but how long does the feeling last? This week will the warm glow of after speech enthusiasm last beyond the Clacton result tomorrow?

  • Tony Dawson 8th Oct '14 - 6:41pm

    Not renowned as being QUITE Nick Clegg’s greatest fan, I would declare that this was an excellent speech, balancing Lib Dem Coalition achievements with clear blue water between us and the Tories and a reasonable critique of Labour. The questions then have to be:

    “How come this ability to balance these two main messages has suddenly been discovered in October 2014 with only seven months till the election?”

    ” Is the responsibility for either the original ‘Cameron’s shadow’ position or today’s vastly-different positioning Nick Clegg himself’s or that of some unnamed advisors?”

    “Why, if it is OK now, could this type of message not have been delivered a couple of years ago? We still have seven months to go in government so the idea that ‘we couldn’t have achieved anything in Colaition while voicing a critical stance’ just cannot ‘wash’.

    Since very few people actually watch conference speeches, we shall have to see how the media spin this out. The issue will be as to whether the messenger is so tainted now tht the best content ever will be considered an irrelevance.

  • @ John Tilley

    Sometimes I think you’d rather the party had no leader at all.

    What about the speeches given by Cameron and Miliband? I thought Clegg’s was streets ahead in comparison. And yes, it is generating some very positive coverage in some quarters, so I would hope, at least hope, for some kind of polling boost.

    As for parallels with Nuremberg…really? I mean, really?

  • Bill le Breton 8th Oct '14 - 6:57pm

    Good speech – deserves a wider audience than it will get. One has to say the irony is that 50+ other Liberal Democrat MPs could have given the same speech and have been heard by more.

    This is what happens when you ‘learn on the job’ and mess up. See Steve Richard’s perceptive piece in the Independent, “No party can afford to let down its supporters – especially the Lib Dems ” which is worth reading in its entirety here:

    NIck Clegg fessed up to this and especially to naively being duped by Cameron in his interview with Davies on Newsnight. As Richards writes, “Instead he became David Cameron’s cheerleader, literally so at early sessions of Prime Minister’s Questions. The lesson is obvious. Coalition is possible but requires constant dialogue and explanation from leaders to those that had voted for their particular party.”

    The tragedy is that there were literally dozens of Liberal Democrats with Balance of Power experience (and an excellent published guide originally written by Maggie Clay) who could and should have been invoved in supporting the negotiations and advising on the communications. The truth is that there was a mixture of panic (probably aggravated by the Cabinet Secretary) and euphoria which precluded that kind of advice holding sway.

    And yet this speech increases the pledging stakes. It was rich in new implicit pledges, not least in appearing to tell the world that he would talk to both Labour and the Conservatives in the event of another Balanced Parliament resulting from the election’ when every journalist of note has been carefully briefed this week (much to their surprise) on why there is a strong preference for another Coaltion with the Conservatives.

    Stratton and Davies were clear about this two nights ago and this morning Nick Robinson at 8.15 on the Today propgramme set out the strategy very clearly – even down to suggesting that because of the likely reduction in our seats and legitimacy, Clegg would likely be a ‘prominent cabinet minister if not Deputy Prime Minister’. Listen to it here: 2:19 minutes in to the programme i.e. 8.19 this morning.

    Will, therefore the public message of equi-opposition (a refinement of equi-distance), be sustainable whilst senior journalists are being told, not even privately, not even by anonymous sources, but by Ministers that the plan is to appeal to ‘soft Tories’.

    We shall see.

  • Rabi martins 8th Oct '14 - 7:04pm

    Nick articulated our achievement in government better than I have heard h or anyone else do up to now
    He also gave us the best way to address the justifiable criticism for messing up on tuition fees. Put that up against all that we have acilhieved on taxes on protection of civil liberties on pupil premium and.we. should be able to show that we Liberal Democrats have been good for the vulnerable and low paid For me this was a. top rate conference speech

  • It was a good, well crafted speech and better than I had expected.


    there is a clear sense that Clegg would rather spend another five years disagreeing vigorously with Cameron than five years broadly agreeing with Miliband

    This message needs to be squashed. Although the party cannot go into an election aiming not to be in government, neither can it claim a right to be perpetually in government. The reality is surely that participation in a coalition in the next government whichever party turns out to be the largest would be much more problematic than in 2010. Cameron’s EU referendum should rule out another coalition with the Tories, much as Lib Dems could not, under their watch, make FPTP even more undemocratic by reducing the number of MPs, we should not risk being one of the parties that took the UK out of the EU. This would be the ultimate humiliation.

    Cameron has to be on his own on this foolhardy gambit.

    I do support the aim of showing that a coalition government can go the full distance in challenging circumstances, once achieved, there is not the same need to do it again. Arguably there is more of a need to demonstrate what happens when there is no formal coalition.

    If there is a sense that Clegg would rather work with Cameron, this could be presented as ‘better the devil you know’, but really it looks more like Stockhom syndrome.

    The sense I would like to get from the leadership is that the Lib Dems do not need, nor are obliged, to be in coalition with anyone, but if such unlikely circumstances recur Lib Dems would be willing to assess any propositions from larger parties on their merits. Our position should not be that we are chasing Labour nor the Tories; if they wish to chase us, that is another matter.

  • RC

    It is not that I would prefer no leader at all, but I would prefer less emphasis on the leader, less adulation of leaders.

    The building up of leaders as a cross between an X-factor winner and the messiah does nobody any good, least of all the person in the role of leader. It devalues democracy. It undermines all those things that we Liberals talk about and believe in. We end up in the ludicrous situation where Clegg is interviewed by Ch4 News about what he will do about expelling people from the party, which is not his job, in which he has no power under the constitution.

    Building up the role of someone who is elected by the members of the party to lead the party in the House of Commons to be something other than it is is playing the media’s game.

    We have lots of leaders in this party, one in the Parliament in Edinburgh, one in the Assembly in Cardiff, we still have a few leaders with majorities in local councils who exercise real power rather than accepting crumbs from the Osborne table. After May we will have a leader with a group of more than 100 in parliament. He will be in The House of Lords.

  • Wintergreen 8th Oct '14 - 7:25pm

    The speech was a good one and the soft Tory strategy is the best one out there. There’s no point wasting time trying to win back lefties because they are gone for good, along with most of the Lib-Lab marginals. With the Tories tacking hard right to see off UKIP, there’s finally space for a centre-right classical liberal party polling perhaps as high as 12% and holding on to 30-40 seats next time.

    Meanwhile the left will unite behind Labour and Miliband will gain power almost by default with a small but workable majority.

  • RC —  an example of why not too much shold be made of the leader’s speech

    Nick Clegg makes pantomime attacks on Miliband and the Labour Party in his speech. Yet earlier in the week he announced a whole-hearted endorsement of Labour Councils in The North (some of them 100% Labour since May’s elections)
    From the party website — Liberal Democrats in government will transform The North of England into an economic powerhouse, Nick Clegg has announced.
    The Deputy Prime Minister said the party will boost transport infrastructure in the region by developing and implementing the “One North” proposals.

    from Manchester (100% Labour) —

  • John Roffey 8th Oct '14 - 9:43pm

    It was a good speech in the circumstances – even if extremely fanciful.

    Quite why the non-committed voter would choose or trust NC to mediate between Cameron & Miliband is beyond me. Still it had to be given and to that extent, since NC intends to stay as leader and wants to be in coalition again with the Tories, it was well done.

    However, it has to compared to a speeches trying to convince a wider audience that the moon is made of green cheese – if there are any!

  • jedibeeftrix 8th Oct '14 - 9:58pm

    @Martin – “Cameron’s EU referendum should rule out another coalition with the Tories”


  • Little Jackie Paper 8th Oct '14 - 10:26pm

    jedibeefrix – If there is an EU referendum then I would imagine that all political-partisan bets are off. There is a problem though which is that the Cameron idea is not a good one. Having a renegotiation will, at best, put lipstick on a pig. The basic question will be the same, renegotiation or not – is there any future for the status EU IN/EZ OUT.

    The idea of a twin-speed Europe was (just) defensible in a situation where all EU members followed the same integration process – now there is the EZ I would find the twin-speed Europe very hard to defend. At the moment there are 28 EU members, 18 of whom are in the EZ, that becomes 19 on 1st January. Of the EZ outs, only the two have formal opt-outs. Sweden knocked the euro back in a referendum so treaty notwithstanding they are not joining for the moment and Bulgaria have not been clear about their intentions.

    All the others are treaty bound to join the EZ at some point and in all probability any new EU members will be joining the EZ too.

    In short, Cameron has his renegotiation in 2016/17 and his referendum in 2017/18. It’s going to be out of date by 2020. It’s not the lack of reform in the EU that’s the problem here. Just that none of the reform is of the sort the UK political parties seem to want. At worst, Cameron will have half this Parliament dominated by the renegotiation (and a load of instability) and by the end of it he will have a deal that’s out of date. For me the renegotiation is a lousy idea. Frankly a 2015 referendum makes more sense.

    Quite what Cameron thinks he will get in a renegotiation is not clear to me at all. But the direction of travel is all to the EZ. Given that at best in 2025 the EU outs will probably be 4 of 28 EU members (maybe 10% of the EU population) the argument for special treatment is not obvious to me. The question to ask is not what a renegotiated relationship will look like, but whether EU IN/EZ OUT is a status worth having. Cameron to my mind is asking totally the wrong questions.

    As I said earlier I can’t see either Conservative or Labour being united in an EU referendum.

  • Little Jackie Paper 8th Oct '14 - 10:54pm

    In fact, having just read the speech in full on the other thread, it is interesting to note that the EU doesn’t get much of a mention. Not quite blink-and-you-miss-it, but it’s some way from the Party of IN in terms of quantity.

  • jedibeeftrix 8th Oct '14 - 11:16pm

    @ ljp – ” But the direction of travel is all to the EZ.”

    All the more reason to have a referendum, and I will vote out.

    I don’t understand the need to rush things, it is yet to be demonstrated that what you say above will come to pass.

    Martin’s comment still does not make any sense…

  • Jedibeef: a coalition cannot be made with a dominant group that insists on doing something that is fundamentally wrong and also so utterly impractical. I do not think the Liberal Democrat party could withstand the shame if its enduring legacy was that during its time in government the UK pulled out of the EU. It would be bad enough if the consequences were relatively benign, however in all likelihood, leaving the EU would herald a period of economic instability and decline.

  • Gwynfor Tyley 8th Oct '14 - 11:49pm

    IMHO it was a good speech which recognised many of its limitations – those wanting policy pronouncements, what’s the point – no one in the outside world believes we will have any chance of putting them into effect and if by some chance we did get into another coalition, we would have just created a whole load more hostages to fortune a la tuition fees. All that remained was to gee up the troops (job done) and reassert a vision for those voters who don’t focus on policy.

    As for coalition options should they be available in May, I really struggle to see how another coalition with the Tories could be formed – we could never accept the compromises that Cameron would need to keep his backbenchers happy and his backbenchers could never accept the compromises we should need to keep us happy. And if we made them, our share of the vote would go from 8% to 2%.

  • Bill le Breton 8th Oct '14 - 11:51pm

    Wintergreen writes, “The speech was a good one and the soft Tory strategy is the best one out there. There’s no point wasting time trying to win back lefties because they are gone for good, along with most of the Lib-Lab marginals. With the Tories tacking hard right to see off UKIP, there’s finally space for a centre-right classical liberal party polling perhaps as high as 12% and holding on to 30-40 seats next time. ”

    Have you ever won an election at any level???? Were you engaged in campaigning with the Liberal Democrats before 1997?

    You can’t win 30-40 LD>Con facing seats UNLESS you retain a great number of those who you carelessly describe as ‘lefties’. Scarcely any Tory supporters think their party is ‘tacking hard right’. Chasing the kind of ‘soft Tories’ you think are out there is equivalent to chasing unicorns.

    But thanks for spelling out to everyone here the thinking behind such a strategy.

  • David Allen 9th Oct '14 - 12:46am

    “The soft Tory strategy is the best one out there”

    It’s not a strategy. It’s Nick Clegg’s core political belief, in much the same way as Dennis Skinner has a clearly identifiable core political belief. It is shared with the leadership group, bankrolled by the hedge fund industry, and committed for the long haul.

  • David Allen 9th Oct '14 - 12:54am

    LJP, on the EU:

    “Quite what Cameron thinks he will get in a renegotiation is not clear to me at all.”

    What Cameron will get is votes in 2015. He will then need someone to block his daft referendum in 2017, which he is fully aware he will then want to get out of, since his renegotiation will have delivered zilch. That helpful someone is Nicholas Clegg. For that reason, and for similar reasons in respect of other awkward issues that may arise, Cameron will retain Clegg as an ally, irrespective of the election result.

  • Sorry to post at such aweird time.
    David Allen, Cameron will hold the referendum in 2017 because his party will hold him to it. It’s the core of the Conservative’s strategy to kill UKIP as a long term threat. This is why a Conservaitve government of any kind after the 2o15 is actually dangerous.
    Despite all the crowing , The Scottish referendum was actually pretty close . A straight five per cent swing in the total vote would have taken it to a head count. SNP membership has grown and they are highly likely to be returned in 2015. A European referendum will almost certainly guarantee another Scottish referendum. How exactly does a government that is willing to gamble the entire British economy on settling its internal ideological rifts then claim it offers the Scots a more stable future? Threats and Bullying won’t work. The consequences of going down this path are very troubling.. Would Britain’s standing as an economic force survive, would the banking sector still look attractive, would investors still think England looks worth investing in? I suspect not.

  • John Roffey 9th Oct '14 - 7:11am

    From Electoral Calculus

    Probability of possible outcomes

    Conservative majority
    Labour majority
    Con/Lib coalition
    Lab/Lib coalition
    Lib choice of coalition
    No overall control
    The future is never certain. But using our advanced modelling techniques, we can estimate the probability of the various possible outcomes at the next general election.

  • Bill le Breton 8th Oct ’14 – 11:51pm
    Bill, in answer to Wintergreen you wrote –
    “…Have you ever won an election at any level???? Were you engaged in campaigning with the Liberal Democrats before 1997?
    You can’t win 30-40 LD>Con facing seats UNLESS you retain a great number of those who you carelessly describe as ‘lefties’. Scarcely any Tory supporters think their party is ‘tacking hard right’. Chasing the kind of ‘soft Tories’ you think are out there is equivalent to chasing unicorns.”

    I think you put your finger on a key consideration for uswhen we start to rebuild the party. There is now a generation (let’s call them Clegg’s children) who have never won an election at any level.
    Most of those who have joined the party in the last 8 years have known nothing but failure and decline. So anyone in the party under thirty has learned how to make excuses, how to beieve in unicorns, but not how to win elections.

    Too many people here in LDV and elsewhere in the party seem to have forgotten that a raison d’être is to win elections. For a new leader and a new party structure a priority will be to overcome this and rebuild from the grassroots.

  • matt (Bristol) 9th Oct '14 - 9:37am

    Wintergreen: ‘there’s finally space for a centre-right classical liberal party ‘

    But I don’t want to be part of a centre-right classical liberal party. I want to part of a centre-ground democratic party that uses ideas from right and left, does not believe that either state intervention or market capitalism is the devil incarnate, and prioritises devolution, constitutional reform and human rights. Do I get a say?

  • How can the lib dems go into coalition with the Tories when have promised an in out referendum no ifs no buts!

  • John Roffey 9th Oct ’14 – 7:11am
    From Electoral Calculus Probability of possible outcomes
    Labour majority
    Lab/Lib coalition
    After the 2010 election Clegg repeatedly said that the largest party should form the government and that the rejected Prime Minister should go. He said the voters ‘ wishes should decide. That was one of the underlying arguments for a deal with The Tories. Despite the lines pushed by media moguls and The Westminster Bubble the results for the Labour Party in elections since 2011 in those seats where they need to win indicate that they will have the most seats next May unless there is some sort of earthquake. This is why the Tories were so keen to gerrymander the seats in return for House of Lords reform. I don’t know how Electoral Calculus reach their 63% figure but it certainly seems to fit the facts in the real world. It is another indicator as to why the belief in “soft Tories” is like chasing unicorns.

  • Simon Shaw
    That is not logic that is standing one hypothesis on top of another to fit your own prejudice.

  • An In/Out referendum is damaging and pointless. Pointless because in the end, like in Scotland, the majority will vote to maintain the status quo. However I’m a democrat and that sometimes means accepting damaging and pointless courses of action. If there is another Lib/Con coalition the Lib Dem, having most likely lost at least half their vote and half their seats, will be in no position morally or politically to block a referendum. Accept a referendum and console yourselves with the thought that the inevitable result is the decisive defeat of the eurosceptics for a generation.

  • John Roffey 9th Oct '14 - 10:41am

    @ John Tilley

    “It is another indicator as to why the belief in “soft Tories” is like chasing unicorns.”

    Also, the Party has shifted from 23% support in 2010 to 8% today – with a likely loss of around half its seats. This , by the leaderships own admission is primarily due to its participation in the coalition. In 2010 the Party had nearly a fifth of the seats that the Tories had – so could expect to exercise a reasonable influence on the government.

    In contrast, the Party is only likely to have a seventh or eighth of the seats held by the Tories should the parties form another coalition in 2015. This would mean even less influence – and thereby association with even more unpopular policies than now – hitting the Party’s popularity [and seat share] even harder.

    I think there is an onus on the leadership to explain why it is prepared to risk managing the Party so that it is best prepared for another coalition with the Tories, a 33/1 shot, when it might be expected that the Party’s seat share is likely to drop to less than 10 and its popularity to around 4% by 2020 as a consequence.

    Why would such a strategy even be contemplated – since the excuse of saving the nation from financial ruin can no longer be proffered – when the, almost certain, outcome would be the demise of the Party?

  • Bill le Breton 9th Oct '14 - 10:42am

    I mentioned yesterday how “this speech increases the pledging stakes”.

    Here is Chris Giles in today’s FT explaining this … really we are being no different from Labour and the Tories on deficit funding. If Labour are ‘wilfully blind’, if the Tories are ‘deceitful’ and if you believe Nick Clegg is sincere, then we are ‘ignorant’. Our position is actually little different to Labour’s on the pace of deficit consolidation.

    No one is going to remove the deficit in the next Parliament. The honest approach would be to say that “we continue to plot a path of deficit reduction that is realistic, truthful and will damage growth prospects far less than our opponents. We expect to reduce the structural deficit to 2% by the end of the next Parliament”.

    By feeding the British public an impossible promise we and Labour and the Conservatives are undermining the publics confidence in their democracy and helping the extremists gain further footholds in the next Parliament.

  • Why cant we just accept this for what it was ?- the best speech I have heard Clegg make in ages – far better than the other 2. I really do think some people should stop gazing at their navels and get out a bit more. Yes a mistake was made over tuition fees – but a lot of other good things have been achieved. I actually watched quite a lot of the conference on TV – and thought the whole thing came across well. I saw a poll the other day saying the majority of people thought the Lib Dems would disappear after the election. Yeah – thats going to happen.

  • John Roffey 9th Oct ’14 – 10:41am
    Yes indeed. You have set out the reality.
    A reality acknowledged even by many who clapped what was hopefully Clegg’s last ever autumn conference speech.
    Huff Post today is interesting on the leadership election that is already taking place.

  • david.
    Like you I watched on TV so neither of us was approached to join in the leadership campaigns already under way to replace Clegg.
    See Huff Post–
    “…..Liberal Democrats in Glasgow are demob happy. Not because they are pleased to be languishing at 7% in the polls, but because, …….
    …………thoughts have moved to 8 May, 2015 – the day after polling day.
    ………………….Nick Clegg will be toast once the results come in. And the beauty parade of potential successors is not even subtle anymore.

    The Huffington Post understands that ……
    Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Tim Farron, Ed Davey, Jo Swinson, Norman Lamb and Jeremy Browne are all names seen to be in the mix.

    Much depends on the outcome of the election. A Lib-Lab deal, a Lib-Con deal or opposition will heavily influence what the party wants and needs in a leader.

    …….. Alexander offered one Lib Dem operative a job in his nascent campaign, only to be turned down. And MPs are now publicly approaching contenders in Glasgow to let them know they are on board. One sidled up to a likely leadership candidate and said with a wink, “I’m in”. The conference fringe is awash with ‘in conversation’ events featuring the frontrunners. And aides scrutinise the number of standing ovations, if any, their rivals’ bosses receive when speaking from the main conference stage.

    The answers to the inevitable “do you want to be leader” question are also now equally unsubtle. Alexander, when asked yesterday by The Independent’s Steve Richards whether he wanted to be leader one day, gave a long reply.

  • Simon Shaw
    Your question is cut ally answered in my earlier comment. I don’t know how Electoral Calculus reach their conclusions . But I do think 63% probability reflects the reality of Labour performance in local council elections since 2011 especially in seats which they will probably win next May.
    What you say about Southport is no doubt true.
    But I was being pedantic and pointing out that hat you said inan earlier comment was not of necessity “logical”. Apologies for diverting the debate.

    Much more important in the next few months is that candidates should not chase the unicorns of imaginary”soft Tories”. It is an illusion lost at the end of a cul de sac.

  • Martin Gentles 9th Oct '14 - 12:12pm

    The Party leadership is making a mistake in being so negative on a coalition with Labour over the Tories. We are still electing MPs by First Past The Post (Winner Takes All) and this lends itself to polarised elections (its a vote for A or for B or against A or against B). Labour is the main repository for anti Tory votes (leaving aside Ukip for the moment). The party leadership is effectively saying a Lib Dem vote, in a FPTP election, is an anti-anti-Tory vote. Not a smart move.

  • The speech was delivered well and he looked more relaxed than I’ve seen him for a long time, but the headlines appeared to be about mental health treatment for young people – not really a great voter winner – and vote for us we are not Tory or Labour. Looking at the papers this morning you wouldn’t really know he made a speech, the coverage was all about Ebola, The Great British Bake off and the cast for the new Dads Army. Unfortunately if the LibDems get less than5% of the vote in tonights by-elections the conference will be forgotten and it will be back to crisis mode. Anyone looking to make some money could do worse than have a flutter on a local sex worker in Clacton having a bigger share of the vote than the LibDems. The odds are 25/1, but I believe they are falling fast.

  • David Allen 9th Oct '14 - 12:28pm

    “Why cant we just accept this for what it was ?- the best speech I have heard Clegg make in ages”

    I suppose that some of us, who have pointed to Clegg’s continuing series of mistakes such as “Party of In”, have unintentionally implied that Clegg just needs to stop the mistakes. Well, this week there haven’t been any big mistakes. Clegg’s performance has been respectable by any standards, and a bit of a blinder by historic Clegg standards. And yet…

    The acid test will be whether we get any sort of post-conference bounce in the polls. As Paul Barker has commented, going last has turned out well for us, giving us more chance to shine by comparison to clueless Miliband and dangerous Cameron. And yet..

    The public is still totally unwilling to listen to Clegg. They have made up their minds what they think of him. Dr Crippen would never have recovered his reputation, even if he had come up with a cure for Ebola. And neither will Clegg.

    As speculation turns to a replacement – whether now or in six months – the crucial question is whether a change, after four disastrous years in coalition, will cure the problem. If someone like Alexander were to take over, would we see the tabloids choose between “MiniClegg” and “CleggLite”, while the broadsheets went for “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”?

  • Martin Gentles 9th Oct '14 - 12:36pm

    Clegg’s huge problem is that the public don’t seem to want to listen to him.

    While I think he has made mistakes, I have been warmer towards Clegg than many of his critics. But even I think we would do better in the coming GE, if Clegg wasn’t the leader. Rightly or wrongly, Clegg is simply too toxic.

  • paul barker 9th Oct '14 - 12:46pm

    The Post-Conference Bounce is another of those Media myths, it sometimes happens but its very erratic & usually very short-term. Labour didnt get one this year. We may get one but the Media narrative will be almost immiediately taken by UKIP; will any more MPs defect & how badly can UKIP hit Labour ?

  • a citizen income funded by QE

    Won’t that just produce inflation?

  • The thing is your shouting from the roof tops the good things you’ve done, and I have to concede as a life long labour supporter you have done some good things. But people don’t remember the good things only the bad things , ask my wife when we have a good old argy bargy. And there lies your problem, these poorer people who were disillusioned with labour last time round find themselves in dire straits. Why? Because this society is not fairer under this condem government. You can argue all your points with me till the cows come but you will eventual believe what I’m saying, why? Because you’ve only got to look at the polls 6% at best from 25% 4 years ago.

  • Geoff Crocker
    You are right to point up the inconsistencies in the energy policy which Ed Davey only yesterday was trying to sell.
    He appears to hate coal now almost as much as he hated nuclear before he became Secretary of State for Nuclear.

    Now he has a list of at least five new nuclear power stations that he wants to scatter around the UK at enormous cost to the next generations who will pay through their electricity bills in what yesterday the outgoing EU commissioners decided was not now a subsidy. When is a subsidy not a subsidy?

    You are also right to highlight the paradox of calling for a reduction in electricity demand whilst promoting electric cars.

    Local power generation by renewables, off grid, does not seem to enter into the thinking. Perhaps because it is not supported by the large corporations who profit from the status quo.
    Unfortunately ministers of all parties in the last forty years have spent more time listening to those corporations and their lobbyists than thinking about the public good.

  • @John Tilley
    Unfortunately ministers of all parties in the last forty years have spent more time listening to those corporations and their lobbyists than thinking about the public good.

    So that makes it OK, for the first time in over 80 years the libdems had power, you were supposed to be a breath of fresh air and protect the poor the vulnerable and the disabled. Yet you turned on them like viscous predators you became the new sherif of Nottingham and with the help of the Tories not only captured poor old Robin Hood but had him killed.

    Now like I’ve said you’ve not only lost all those disillusioned labour supporters but lost over 20000 members and 60% of your core support! and it’s like the blind leading the blind you ain’t got a clue what to do. Tonight will be the earthquake that will make you realise that you are doomed.

  • A citizen income should be funded by QE to take total macroeconomic demand up to the level of output GDP

    I’m not an economist, so I’m not sure what that means. I think I need it in simpler terms.

    If you’ve got the same number of people, trying to buy the same amount of stuff, and you give everybody the same amount of extra money which is printed by the central bank, why will that not just cause prices to rise until everybody is exactly as well-off as they were before, in real terms?

  • Geoff Crocker
    The approach on the economy has been entirely populist – heavily tabloid influenced. Unfortunately, our overall principles are very anti-tabloid, and until we bring the ideas together, and take the tabloids on head-on, we will not formulate a realistic policy offering. The core problem, running under the demand deficiency you identify, is of course, inequality, and the salting away by companies and wealthy individuals, of spending power. This leaves the majority of people, in the middle and lower income ends of society, poorer off. As Lib Dems our economic policy must change, and without our more radical wing, many of whom have abandoned ship, where are we going to get the support for that change?

    I have just been speaking to a good friend who is economically more right than I am, who went to Glasgow, and who says that the atmosphere there was upbeat. It seems to me that the radical wing is now becoming quieter, whether because they have all left, or because we are within sight of the election, and “careless talk costs seats”! I am now concerned that the active party is becoming complacent, going into May 2015 imagining that we will maintain 35 – 40 seats on a 15% vote or so. Sorry guys, it’s not going to happen.

    PS Geoff – the Party did support Citizen’s Income in the mid 90s, until the rightish element reckoned it “wasn’t affordable”.

  • The road to hell is paved with people believing Nick’s speeches.

  • Wintergreen 9th Oct '14 - 2:52pm

    Bill le Breton, David Allen, JohnTilley, matt (Bristol) –

    You misunderstand, I’m not advocating becoming a centre-right classically liberal party, I’m observing that that has already happened. The die was cast when the coalition negotiators decided not to bother fighting against tuition fees. A change of direction might have been possible if Clegg had been ditched earlier in the parliament, but it’s way too late for that now. In that context, and with the renastification of the Tories, the party’s strategy is the best one available.

    The only unicorn being chased here is the idea that leftie ex-Lib Dems can be won back while the current leadership remains in place.

  • My own argument is at

    I’ve read that but I’m afraid I still don’t understand why putting more money into the economy, without changing the fundamentals of how much stuff is available, won’t cause inflation.

    I mean, would it not be the same process as when the arrival of silver from the New World caused the value of silver in Europe to drop drastically? The arrival of new money in the economy will cause the real value of denominated currency to fall, won’t it?

  • Bill le Breton 9th Oct '14 - 4:20pm

    Wintergreen thanks for that helpful clarification. I see exactly where you are coming from. And you will no doubt be right in 600 seats. But in our held LD>Tory facing seats very significant numbers of former (say pre 1992) Labour voters have been persuaded over three decades of effort and service and beseeching to ‘lend their vote’ to the local Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate.

    A proportion of these will continue to vote for us because of the relationship developed by good constituency MPing. Some have indeed ‘gone for good’. The remainder are ‘making up their minds’.

    The leadership’s overt briefing that they now expect the Tories to provide them with a chance for a continuing Coaltion does not help persuade these ‘late deciders’ to stay with their local Liberal Democrat. As many as 10,000 in the average LD held Tory facing seat. Alienating these people is extraordinary generous to the Tory contenders.

    It is also clear that Cortzee’s mass polling exercise has somehow encouraged the leadership that there are a vast number of soft Tories to be won over. To me that is to believe in Unicorns. There may just be 2 or 300 in a constituency prepared to do that when the election is on a knife edge. I tell you it was hard enough pushing that line in 1983 when we even had Pym telling soft Tories that a Tory landslide was not good for democracy. Wow!

    Finally, to rely on the Tories doing a deal and for us on the faith of it to be willing to abandon all those Labour tactical voters in key held seats is to repeat the kind of naivity and infatuation with Cameron that Clegg has now admitted was foolish in 2010/11. See also similar concerns raised by Martin Kettle in the Guardian under the title ‘A hung parliament in 2015? Yes. But the Lib Dems in coalition, I don’t think so.’

    A naive and electorally inexperienced Leadership is rushing headlong down a path that will see us win even few seats.

    Lynne Featherstone said, ‘I wish I could shoot colleagues who agreed to raise Tuition fees ( )

    I think there will be as many as 40 former MPs saying next May, “I wish I could shoot colleagues who decided we should turn our backs on Labour tactical voters and chase Unicorns – the mythical Soft Tories.”

  • Bill le Bretton

    “Lynne Featherstone said, ‘I wish I could shoot colleagues who agreed to raise Tuition fees ”

    Wasn’t she one of the most enthusiastic LibDem MP’s to vote to raise tuition fees? Talk about two faced.

  • Not as long as additional demand funding is within the limit of output GDP

    Like I wrote, I’m not an economist, so you’re going to have to translate that into layman’s terms for me.

    You have a system with a certain amount of stuff for sale, a certain number of people who want to buy the stuff, and a certain amount of money.

    If you just add more money to the system without changing the number of people or the amount of stuff, how will all that happens not be that the money becomes less valuable?

    I mean, if the average person gets £100 per week, and buys bread at £1, then if you give everybody an extra £50 a week, everybody still wants bread, and there’s the same amount of bread, but everybody has more money, so the price of bread will rise. There’s the same amount of supply and the same amount of demand in the system as there was before, so all that can change is the notional value of the denominated currency.

    How will this not happen if a universal income is funded by QE, ie, simply by introducing more money into the syystem?

  • Bill le Breton and Wintergreens
    “…. I tell you it was hard enough pushing that line in 1983 when we even had Pym telling soft Tories that a Tory landslide was not good for democracy. ”

    In the 1983 General Election a number of us abandoned our own constituencies and briefly took up residence in Leeds West, where we were successful in building on Michael Meadowcroft’s many years of as a local councillor and get him elected as the local MP. We took the seat from Labour. I have no doubt that some soft Tories voted Liberal to beat the Labour man. But it was a Labour seat!!!

    In the 30 seats we might hang on to next May ( the seats that Clegg’s people are briefing the press about) the political reality is the reverse of Leeds West in 1983. To beat the Tories we need votes from people who don’t want a Tory MP.

    It is not ompliceted. It written in the election results of every General Election since 1945.

    I don’t know how things work in South Africa, which I assume is the only place Mr Coetzee has any experience, but someone needs to take him by the scruff of he neck and sit him down with the Times Guide from each UK general election in the last seventy years and point out some realities.

    He has not exactly been a stunning success in his job so far, maybe it is time for him to consider that he needs to change what he does before people catch on to the fact that he has not a clue what he is doing.

  • Tsar Nicolas 9th Oct '14 - 6:15pm

    @John Tilley

    [Ryan Coetzee] “has not exactly been a stunning success in his job so far.”

    Neither has Clegg, but the Dear Leader has taken that as proof from God that he must carry on, so I guess Mr Coetzee is only following the leader’s example.

  • Peter Watson 9th Oct '14 - 8:26pm

    @malc “Wasn’t she [Lynne Featherstone] one of the most enthusiastic LibDem MP’s to vote to raise tuition fees?”
    I don’t think so, but she doesn’t seem to have covered herself in glory over the issue.
    According to theyworkfor you, she “Voted very strongly for raising England’s undergraduate tuition fee cap to £9,000 per year” (
    At the time I think she vacillated a bit but I don’t remember her being a cheerleader.
    Besides which, didn’t the Coalition Agreement allow Lib Dems to abstain? This still demonstrated plans to break the pledge days after the election and I lost respect for MPs like Simon Hughes who wimped out in that way, but abstention was not trashing the pledge as thoroughly as those who voted for the thing they promised to vote against.

  • Just watching local elections, True to form the BBC is not reporting the level of Tory collapse. Labour didn’t do well. Lib Dems kept deposit down to 5%.
    the blunt fact is that voting Lib Dem is beginning look a little like a wasted vote that skews politics in favour of UKIP.

  • Chris Holman 10th Oct '14 - 11:13am

    I had to watch the speech on TV but I thought it was a good speech & as Rabi Martin commented it spelled out simply & succinctly what we had achieved in Government & although Nick didn’t say this explicitly none of these policies would be on the statute book if the Tories had been governing alone.

    Incidentally, my wife who is generally pretty apolitical but I think normally votes Lib Dem said, straight after it had finished & completely unprompted, that she thought it was a good speech.

  • Unfortunately what came across in the news clips I saw was:

    There are lots of reasonable, decent, moderate people like me who for some strange reason haven’t been voting for us lately but will soon.

    Please vote for us to keep us in government, that is, in our ministerial jobs.

    We’ve delivered lots of our policies.

    PLEASE don’t let the Liberal Democrats vanish from the face of the earth. HELP!

    My reaction is that the last bit seems extraordinarily unwise: The people at conference wouldn’t need persuading that we were worth saving and to the general public, mentioning how awful things would be if we disappeared is admitting we might do just that.

    The first bit suggests Nick still believes there’s a vast number of centrists waiting to be tapped. There isn’t.

    The commitment on mental health is brave, distinctive and essentially Liberal.

  • Simon Banks 10th Oct ’14 – 11:57am. …………….Nick still believes there’s a vast number of centrists waiting to be tapped. There isn’t.

    Exactly!! There isn’t a pool of Soft Tories out there.

  • I think the problem for Coz’s plan is that it is based on one he used in South Africa, where they have proportional representation, not first past the post.

    He basically looks for the most likely individuals to vote for us ‘nationwide’ and tailors our policies/stance to that position.

    The problem is that even if there a ’15-20%’ most likely to vote us policy-wise group, the distribution of this group is likely to be uneven (at best) – and many of them simply will not vote for us on principle. Furthermore, this does not take account of the local situation and the local MPs relationship with his/her constituents.

    Even someone with just a bit of experience of realworld campaigning knows this, so it is a shame that the campaign machine does not.

  • Basically, Coetzee does not seem to appreciate that under our system, you can get 25% of the vote and still only have 5% of the seats in parliament, whilst a party which only gets 33% of the vote can get over 50% of the seats.

    Our system makes it that you have campaign locally because it is not about how many votes you get, it is about where you get those votes.

  • Liberal Al
    You are right in both your last two comments.

    I always thought the appointment of Coetzee was odd. It almost seemed that Clegg was following a Westminster Bubble trend. The Tories had appointed an Australian, so the Liberal Democrats had to have their South African.

    Expecting Coetzee to rapidly understand a new country, a new voting system, and the difference between for example David Ward’s constituency and Alastair Carmichael’s constituency (not to mention the Cornish and those who speak Welsh) would suggest a steep learning curve even for someone with relevant experience.

    Unfortunately for him he may well be remembered for the Clacton result of just one percent.

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