Opinion: Why I will withhold my standing ovation from Nick Clegg today

Today, for the first time at the numerous leader’s speeches I have attended, I intend to remain seated when Nick Clegg gets the standing ovation for his speech.

I won’t do it with any rancour or anger. I am a great fan of Nick Clegg (I just cannot support him as leader of our party anymore, as I have outlined ad nauseam elsewhere). I will be there, seated, smiling and clapping enthusiastically. But I am damned if I am going to stand.

My reasons for doing so are based on a huge lump of gut-feel. Yes. Big lumpy, stodgy, bovine, even stupid, gut-feel.

In fact, if I was put under the spotlight and interrogated about my reasons I would probably struggle to defend my position and might well turn into a chaotic, rambling, hand weaving mess, causing snorty howls from those with forensic brains who engage them fully.

Nick Clegg is a superb Liberal Democrat politician. Quite brilliant. His answer on the deficit at the Q&A this week blew my socks off, as I said at the time.

Put it this way. When Paddy Ashdown was leader, if he’d asked me to jump off a cliff, I would have done so. If Nick Clegg asked me to jump off a cliff, I’d run in the other direction and quickly write a blog post saying how silly he was.

I won’t bore our readers with a list. Let me spell it out. Ashdown style. There. Have. Been. Too. Many. Shoddy. Compromises.

You can intellectually explain the first. And the second. And the third. But, by the time you get to the twentieth arguable travesty against our core values, you can still explain it (and Paddy can be wheeled on to, very convincingly, thread the camel through the eye of the needle for the nth time) but the body refuses to follow the head, and you think:

Hang on a minute, what am I playing at here?

I have rambled elsewhere on this. By way of further back-up I would add two post-final straws:

1. Secret courts

No. It’s not a matter of faffing around. Conference was quite clear. No.

2. Conference

The Liberal Democrat conference has become separated from the normal person in the street and the normal Lib Dem member on the street. You have to be very well off in terms of money and time to attend. I tried breaking even by being a steward this week, and staying in a hostel from £17.95 a night. Even with registration paid and some limited expenses as part of being a steward, it’s going to cost me a fair whack, mainly down to all those incidentals: taxi, meals, drinks etc. It’s a rich person’s conference. The ring of steel around the conference centre cocoons a lot of well-heeled people and some very hardy and resilient normal people.

Sorry, but I’m keeping my seat. I might have to superglue myself to it though, to make sure I am true to my word and don’t get swept away on the tide of emotion…

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Could not agree more.

  • Buy that man a beer!!!

    According to the BBC one of the lines Clegg will use in his speech is: “But, conference, I tell you this. The choice between the party we were, and the party we are becoming, is a false one. The past is gone and it isn’t coming back.”

    The party that the current leadership is turning us into is something like the old National Liberals.

  • Emperor’s New Clothes, I am afraid. Nick Clegg may be articulate, but he is not a good political / rhetorical speaker. He cannot put together thoughts in a motivating way for activists. In fact that may be linked to the fact that (in comparison with a lot of other political leaders, of our party and others), he is not a particularly good politician. Personally, I try to give standers only to outstanding political speeches. I cannot imagine Nick giving a speech which would bring me to my feet.

  • Not sure how it has become more expensive to attend – especially at Brighton where there’s a lot of good-value accommodation, if you’re prepared to be a bit ‘out’.

    But clearly, from the amount of seating in the hall, there are a lot of people at the Conference but not expected to sit in the debates?

  • martin sweetland 26th Sep '12 - 7:17pm

    Fair play to you sir.I would not give Nick Clegg a luke warm hand clap . I would like for ANY lib dem to try and tell me what your party has done for the disabled, other than stab them in the back and abandon them. And before you get on your high horse s take a look on the blog “diary of a benefit scrounger” and read the recent first-hand story of a young mother of four young children , who has to raise not only her kids, but also look after her severely disabled husband. They get no benefits as he has used up his 12 months time limit , and has been ordered to attend interviews. I do not want anyone to comment until they read this story , and this is 2012?

  • richard in norway 26th Sep '12 - 8:24pm

    Time for a new leader or a new party!!

  • paul barker 26th Sep '12 - 8:50pm

    So why go to the speech at all, your action simly looks like deliberate rudeness to me. Rude to the people around you rather than Clegg.
    For all your moaning you could afford to go to conference, I couldnt. How about next year you pay for me to go & you can stay at home whinging from the comfort of your own PC ? (I promise no drinks or taxis)

  • @paul barker
    “Rude to the people around you rather than Clegg”

    Don’t worry Paul, I was right at the back amongst journalists and diplomats who were also sitting.

    I was actually moaning on behalf of people like you who can’t afford to go to conference, not on behalf of myself. I tried an exercise to see if I could break even. I couldn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference.

  • Paul Walter,

    What comes over very clearly from your posting is just how difficult it is, on a personal level, to go to a meeting of your political “family” and tell the leader, to his face, that he is leading in the wrong direction. However much the facts support your case, it is hard.

    Four years ago, when Clegg first committed us to “big permanent tax cuts”, I resigned my local party chairmanship, delivered a last Focus, and reset my political objectives to work toward restoring our party on the centre-left, not the toady Right. I decided to retreat behind a computer keyboard, and to work to persuade, cajole and argue by remote blogging.

    I did not know when I started, and I don’t know now, whether this would have a limited effect, or no effect at all, or a pivotal effect. I felt, optimistically, that rational argument combined with determination and indeed repetition had its place. Reason does change minds, if often only slowly. My (somewhat cowardly?) approach also had the advantages that for the most part, it avoided personal confrontation and unpleasantness.

    Well, I’m sure not stopping now. The euphoric emissions from a Conference I have kept well clear of contrast with the incredulity of most independent observers, who think that Lib Dem Conference is a kind of fantasy world out on its own somewhere. So here I am, in a different part of Britain, working for my employer, posting in my spare time, and feeling happier to do that.

    But – Your role, and that of like-minded colleagues, may now be much the more important one. The family do need to be told, face-to-face, that they must change. Thanks for beginning work on that task.

  • Dead right Paul. Conference should be more affordable and more accessable to ordinary party members. Money should not be the deciding factor in participating in party activities. That said, I always get an enormous buzz from conference and a re-charge of the motivation batteries. So the easier it is to attend and get involved, the better it is for the health of the party.

  • George Miles 27th Sep '12 - 1:48pm

    I am one of the people Clegg may label a protester, but I did not vote for the Civil Liberties amendment because Julian Huppert asked us not to – and he knows more about the existing imperfect legislation than me. I hope we didnt give the impression that the ‘Liberal Activists’ dont trust our MPS and Lords to do all they can for Civil Liberties and Liberalism and not to surrender core principles to the influences of the newspapers on their constituents,, elitist Tories, and Statist Labourites. I joined the Libdems not the Greens because I believe in cooperation with people who do not hold 100% of the same views as me.

  • George Miles 27th Sep '12 - 2:16pm

    Because Julian Huppert asked us not to I did not vote for the Civil Liberties amendment
    (worded a bit ambiguously above!)

  • Peter Reisdorf 30th Sep '12 - 12:20pm

    I agree with almost everything except about the Conference. If we are going let representatives of the members decide policy then we need a conference and actually the fringe meetings are at least as good as the debates (which they help by giving information). The problem is that it is expensive to stay in this country, probably the reason why we go to holiday resort such as Brighton and Bournemouth as they have range of accommodation. However it’s good that we go to cities like Liverpool and Glasgow as huge numbers of people in the country live in metropolitan areas. When the Conference was in Liverpool (spring 2008 and autumn 2010) accommodation cost me nothing, because I’m one of the one and a quarter million people who live in Merseyside. As for getting taxis at Conference, I’ve only done that once in the ten years that I’ve been regularly attending the Conference (I was late for a debate I wanted to vote in). On the cost of meals, especially at the autumn Conference a large numbers of fringe meetings provide a buffet and if you don’t go to fringe meetings then you are missing out on a key part of the Conference. The other thing that’s unavaoidable on top of hotel costs is the cost of drinks in the Conference hotel (although the Glee Club – one of the Conference highlights most years – usually negotiate lower prices). With modern technology it would be possible to have a virtual Conference, but actually meeting people face to face is at the heart of the Conference. So, for all it’s faults, I feel that we have to have Conferences – there is no alternative. Incidentally, I managed to go for several years when my only income was a £9,000 councillors allowance, topped up for four years with student loans/grants (I now have a full time job).

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