Nick Clegg’s speech delivers on all fronts

If Nick Clegg sounded a little hoarse from a sore throat throughout his leader’s speech to the Birmingham spring conference then it’s not surprising: he has been omnipresent in the media this week, winning the Lib Dems more coverage than I can remember outside of an election campaign.

The first responsibility of any Lib Dem leader’s speech is to forget that he is talking to the party faithful in the conference hall – they will vote for the party regardless – and to pitch directly to the wider public watching the speech live or on news bulletins.

The second responsibility of any Lib Dem leader’s speech is to remember that he is talking to the party faithful in the conference hall – and that he needs to fire them up for the election contest to come because it is their hard work which will deliver results.

So how did Nick’s speech measure up against those two responsibilities?

Well, the broadcast media coverage has been extensive, with Nick’s speech leading both BBC News 24 and Sky News. That in itself is a big success.

Just as importantly, though the media cannot (seemingly) avoid banging on about a hung parliament, Nick’s passages on the Lib Dems’ policy priorities are also being reported, in addition to some of his coruscating criticism of the Tories (“the world’s first offshore political party”) and Labour (their election slogan is “like advertising a second trip on the Titanic”).

A Lib Dem leader is at a disadvantage when addressing conference: Labour and Tory leaders can throw in new stuff, take a few risks, as its not their only time guaranteed some news coverage. For Nick, the challenge was clear: start the process of repeating the Lib Dems’ four election campaign priorities until not only we members can recite them by heart, but so that members of the public are aware of them, too. Nick is learning the discipline of repeating key messages time and time again (I’m deliberately avoiding the phrase ad nauseum). With fewer than eight weeks til polling day, this was no time for new initiatives, and this was a calculatedly policy-driven speech.

What did Lib Dem conference-goers make of it? The insta-response is overwhelmingly positive – here are a handful of this afternoon’s #ldconf tweets:

  • JasonJHunter Well, I’m back online after a FANTASTIC #ldconf Nick was a SUPERSTAR today – and if anyone had any doubts about his leadership – Think AGAIN
  • MShapland Now leaving #LDconf Clegg proved that only the Lib Dems can deliver change that works for you: its game time!
  • CllrDaisyBenson I have never felt this much passion from Clegg. Everyone has to see this speech #ldconf (via @chriswiggin)
  • sarabedford Leaving #ldconf feeling uplifted and ready for the campaign. Excellent, passionate speech from @nick_clegg.
  • annaarrowsmith Nick Clegg’s speech was excellent, excellent, excellent!!! I’m all stirred up to start my campaign in Gravesham…

Finally, a word about the party’s general election slogan, Change that works for you. Building a fairer Britain. The slogan (and the logo) has had its fair share of critics, within and beyond the party, for being an over-wordy, composite mish-mash.

Yet what was clear today from Nick’s speech was two things. As my LDV co-editor Mark Pack tweeted straight afterwards, “V passionate speech from @nick_clegg at #ldconf – and party slogan works well as repeated refrain through speech”.

And just as important as the slogan’s narrative is the way it asserts the Lib Dems’ equidistant independence from both Labour (whose slogan is fairness) and the Tories (whose slogan is change). As Nick said in one of his concluding passages:

Vote Lib Dem get change.

Vote Lib Dem get fairness.

A vote for the Liberal Democrats is not a vote for anyone else. It is your guarantee of real change that works for you.

A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a bold commitment to hope and opportunity. It’s a vote that says: I want government to be honest and open. I want a green economy. I want fairer taxes. I want a fairer future for my children and for all our children.

This was a passionate speech from Nick. Perhaps more significantly for the party’s prospects at the general election, this was also a professional and disciplined speech.

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This entry was posted in Conference, General Election and Op-eds.


  • Rather ironic for someone called “Dane” to be anti-European, eh?

    By the way, joining the Euro hasn’t been party policy for some while now. Just thought you ought to know that….

    Perhaps you’d rather try the Conservative or Labour brands of “fairness” where only rich people or a tiny proportion of the electorate get to take complete power for five years.

  • I thought his speach was good, only breaking down when he tires to use the naff “change that works for you”
    and the people are the kingmakers – which is a bizzare interpretaion of the electoral system.

    Dane, the problem with your idea, is that is not at all popular, as people do not share your idea of fairness.
    I on the otherhand, think that your notion of meritocracy is equally useless as many of us are in reciept of vast inequalities of gifted and inherited unearned merits that we have done little to create, earn, save or make themselves.

  • Cllr Patrick Smith 17th Mar '10 - 10:09pm

    Nick Clegg`s speech at the Spring Conference in Birmingham was a tour de force and the best rallying cry for `Fairness and Change for Britain’ made by our brilliant leader. I was very impressed as I hope were the voters looking for real change next time.

    I believe that the main thrust of Nick Clegg`s speech that if you vote Liberal Democrat to get get Change will resonate with our voters on May 6th.

    If you vote Liberal Democrat you get Fairness.

    If you vote Liberal Democrat you get Fair Taxes and the end of tax for Millions.

    The Tories only want to deliver for Millionaires.

    Labour has abandoned the aspiring working classes and supported the tax ladder of wealth for the City bankers and given them tax loopholes to climb through whilst the worst off see less from their earnings.

    Bring on the television debates as Nick Clegg is capable of nailing Brown and Cameron`s petards to the mast, in this radical reforming Fairness agenda for Change and Liberal Democrat Government.

  • Dane – £10,000 at the age of 25, oh I feel like Roman Abramovich already.

    I am entirely symapthetic to the idea of reducing the vast inequalities of wealth – whether inherited or “earnt”
    If anything my criticism would be that your proposals are utterly inadequate. I’m not sure how that makes me elitist.

    I don’t think the value of argument depends on knowing who is making it. To me you may as well be anonymous.

    I regard the “Liberal Party” as a sad fraud, however, it is hardly evidence of the popularity of your policy if they adopt it as policy. I suggest a more relevannt indicator of public feeling is the surge in Conservative opinion Poll rating when they announced plans to reduce inheritance tax, or the number of people who buy national lottery tickets.

    I’m grateful to the people of Newbury for not electing you in1974, but I have researched the feb 1974 Liberal Party Manifesto policy on the European Economic Community. I think every single comentator would conclude that one of the few consistent policies of the Liberal and Liberal Democrats has been support for the EEC in it’s evolving forms. One could add an criticism of successive governments for a failure to shape the european co-operation.

    anyway – here’s the manifesto extract:

    The European Economic Community
    Liberals have always insisted on the duty of Britain to play a leading role in transforming Western Europe from warring rivalry into a united community, hence our consistent support for British membership of the Common Market. Further more, it is only as a full participant in the world’s largest trading entity that we can hope to solve our chronic balance of payments problem and at the same time develop the political unity that will guarantee peace and free us from the spectre of domination by the super powers.

    We deplore the delay in joining the Common Market for which Conservative and Labour Governments were equally to blame, but we are even more critical of the narrow-minded nationalism of many so-called ‘internationalists’ in the Labour Party who still shun their responsibility to represent their constituents in the European Parliament. We also condemn the Conservative Government for abdicating their great opportunity to develop the Community in a democratic and outward-looking manner in favour of meek compliance with the interests of the French Government. The present Common Market structure is not what we voted for and the Liberal representatives in the European Parliament have lost no opportunity to point the way in which we feel the Community should develop. Liberals are thus effective but constructive critics of the policies of the Common Market. We want to reform its institutions to see real power exercised by an elected European Parliament. We want to see the progressive reduction of the protectionist aspects of the Common Agriculture Policy, an imaginative and effective regional policy and the harmonisation, not bureaucratisation, of economic and social policies, for the benefit of all members. Finally, we want to see the adoption of an outward-looking trade policy towards the rest of the world and particularly the developing countries. We believe that the great purposes of the Community can be achieved with far-sightedness and vision

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