Opinion: Opportunities abound and our opponents have rarely been so uncertain and unconvincing

Alistair Darling’s pre-budget and pre-election speech was well done. Good knock about in which he steered clear of presenting a budget. David Cameron’s response not only rivalled Darling’s in terms of vacuity, on economic policy, but was too angry by half given the emptiness of his own party’s plans and proposals.

Nick Clegg did fine. It wasn’t a riveting parliamentary performance but it was a workmanlike and honest response to the budget speech, and it did what Nick and Vince must have hoped it would do: it got out the LibDem message efficiently and ensured that key LibDem sound bites were placed
on the record.

After this little parliamentary altercation about the great economic policy issues of the day I was left with a sense of great anticipation about the coming election campaign.

If the issues are so great why are the biggest parties so underwhelming when it comes to talking about them? Labour want to make the duplicitous, uncaring and socially unrepresentative Tories the subject of the election and the Tories want it to be about Brown. If it – the General Election –
is about Brown and the dangers of yet more Brown the Tories have assumed there can only be one outcome: Goodbye Brown and hello Cameron. It is a political strategy as empty as Cameron’s response to the Darling pre-election pre-budget speech. And it represents an extraordinary
opportunity for Liberal Democrats.

The LibDem duo, ‘Vince’ and Clegg, really have been punching above their weight. The Labour duo have been to hell and back…and will not be together much longer. The Tory duo, more batman and robin than a serious pair of prospective national economic leaders, are impossible to take seriously.

With the competition so troubled and so unconvincing Nick and Vince know they must maximise the opportunities for coming out ahead of their principal rivals in public esteem. Cable, in particular, has a considerable starting advantage in that respect and Clegg has been winning his spurs.

The coming election has the feel of an approaching roller coaster ride. In a furious up and down Clegg and Cable could rise much higher than even they and the party had hoped. The current national mood (especially popular dissatisfaction with mainstream parties and parliamentarians) and
the softness of party allegiances means that almost anything is possible. The big dipper can also be a big upper. It is time to hold tight to what we believe in and proclaim it as loud as we can, and keep pointing at the imperiousness and arrogance of opponents who believe they can appear in
public without a stitch on and avoid embarrassment.

Ed Randall, a Liberal Democrat councillor in the London Borough of Greenwich from 1982 to 1998, edited the Dictionary of Liberal Thought jointly with Duncan Brack. Ed lectures on Politics and Risk at Goldsmiths University of London and is the author of Food, Risk and Politics, published by Manchester University Press in 2009.

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