Paddy Ashdown in existential shock at rally

A good conference rally is fun to attend and tricky to report on, simply because there should be nothing new. The audience ideally leaves reminded of the key messages and enthused to fight the good fight – there’s plenty of time for controversy over the rest of the weekend.

As in Bournemouth, the rally took on a glitzy feel: dry ice, bright lights, (relatively) slick presentation.

Lorely Burt opened procedings with a few jokes, and promise of holding her seat in Solihull, where the Lib Dems overturned a 9,400 Tory majority last time round.

Then a selection of parliamentary candidates entered from stage right, each with a worthy policy vignette, some delivered better than others, and, of course, carefully chosen to present a good gender and ethnic mix.

Next came a big hitter – and they don’t come much bigger than Paddy Ashdown. Most politicians would shy away from using the word “existential” at any time, never mind in the first minute of a speech.

Not Paddy, who treated such conventions with the distain they deserve, as he relaxed with a hand draped across the lectern. He asked which party we should trust to sort out the economic mess, and most people in the hall probably guessed what the answer was going to be.

“You only get Vince Cable if you vote Liberal Democrat”, Paddy told us, to great applause.

He called for new Great Reform Act. Westminster should do far less – power should be handed down to nations and communities.

Shirley Williams – still magnificent after all these years – gave us more gravitas before Tim Farron did the comedy turn he does so well, and enthused everyone for the fight ahead.

Before Nick came on stage, there was the now-traditional mini-movie. This one had an assortment of people saying how rubbish Brown and Cameron are, and how wonderful Nick and the Lib Dems are. The movies are decent enough, but they never quite seem to work for me – not sure why.

Finally, Nick strode manfully onto stage do his stuff (the last few seconds of which even made it onto some of the news bulletins). As per the formula, Nick thanked, and bigged up, the other speakers before giving us some stiring, and suitably uncontroversial, words of his own.

Everyone trooped out, and those of us from Lib Dem Voice optimistically hoped they’d find our fringe event a more attractive option than the bar or dinner.

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  • Do we get Vince Cable? Or do we get Osborne in a yellow tie? And would this be the same Vince Cable that promoted prison privatization and was in charge of some very dodgy goings on at Shell or the Vince Cable that came over all Keynesian-Zen?

    Over the last week or so we’ve had Cookites defecting to the Lib Dems and speculation as to whether Robin Cook would join this supposedly “centre-left” party. We’ve had Clegg praising Thatcher as his heroine and saying that he would deal with the deficit with 100% cuts and 0% tax rises. Today he attacks prospective “masochistic” cuts.

    What kind of beasty are you? I have no idea.

  • What kind of beasty are you? I have no idea.

    Yes, god forbid that a political party should fail to conform to narrow leftist-rightist distinctions and actually offer a new approach. Shocking. It’s almost as if we’re neither Labour nor the Tories. Oh wait…

  • It’s the inconsistency. We have anti-cuts rhetoric alongside promises to deal with the deficit wholly through cuts, cutting deeper than either real party is willing to commit to.

    It’s not that you don’t fit on the left/right axis- you would if you knew what you stood for.

  • I’m referring to what I’ve heard from Liberal Democrats, all the empty nonsense we’ve heard from Clegg and company. This is a good case in point: Pure posturing.

    Until the last few days there was no hint that the Lib Dems would be ruling out tax rises in favour of pure cuts in public expenditure. More Thatcher than even the Tories dare.

  • paul barker 13th Mar '10 - 7:40pm

    We arenot ruling out tax rises, for some fairly well-off people; we just balancing them with some tax cuts for some very poor people. If you cant place that on a left/right axis you need a new axis.

  • Bollocks- are you’re talking about that £17billion cut in public services to fund a mere £1billion of tax cuts for those that creep above the current thresh-hold- the very people who, along with those below the thresh-hold that will gain nothing, rely on public services the most?

    It’s either childishless bad policy, or its stated aims are untrue- it does not help the poorest, it strips them of services in order to pay for tax cuts enjoyed by the richest far more than by the poorest.

  • *childishly bad policy

  • Richard Church 14th Mar '10 - 9:17am

    “We have anti-cuts rhetoric alongside promises to deal with the deficit wholly through cuts, cutting deeper than either real party is willing to commit to.”

    Cutting deeper by cancelling a replacement to Trident and the eurofighter, cancelling ID cards, cancelling the child trust fund. Is all that empty rhetoric? The people you call the ‘real’ parties are the ones who won’t tell you what they will do.

  • Teddy Simons 20th Mar '10 - 3:03pm

    Shirley Williams is still magnificent — I fully agree. I sense though that Nick Clegg doesn’t use her as much as the Party should… or could.

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