I’m back home, feet up, and reflecting on Nick Clegg’s speech.
A typical leader’s speech slags off the other parties, makes a few jokes, ticks some policy boxes, and ends with some feelgood promises and election-ready tub-thumping. Nothing wrong with that. But this was something different.
No jokes. This a brave move. In a leader’s speech, jokes aren’t so much the icing on the cake as the sugar on the pill – they keep the audience entertained as well as thoughtful, and they give the journalists an easy hook for their story. No jokes means we all have to work harder. This may have been Sunday morning, but it wasn’t easy. Nick was embodying the message: serious responses for serious times.
No easy answers. Nick did outline our policy highlights: but he made it clear that things will get worse before they get better. We have tough times ahead and we need to be clear-sighted and tough-minded to get through them. He challenged us to see the recession as a challenge and a chance to rebuild, like rebuilding London after the Great Fire.
No short-termism. Politicians are normally short-term – not our fault, the electoral cycle gives its rhythm to public policy – but Nick was thinking long-term. This is partly the impact of his paternity leave: he’s looking on the world as the place his precious children will live their lives, not some policy-testing ground.
No policy boxes. Politicians are great at putting policies in boxes so we can tick them. Again, not entirely our fault, it’s the way government departments, council services, the media, parcel things up. But Nick made connections: between the Government’s attitude to borrowing and the failure to tackle climate change, between a partisan electoral system and a failed economic regime.
No unrealistic promises. Getting out of Westminster, on his visits and his paternity leave, has kept Nick grounded: “the people I’ve met don’t want handouts. They don’t imagine government is the answer to all of their problems. They just need a break.They just want someone to take a little of the weight off their shoulders. It’s the difference between a burden you can carry with your head held high and one that brings you to your knees. It’s the difference the Liberal Democrats will make.”
No partisanship. Nick rightly attacked the other parties on their records and their policy errors. But he spent remarkably little time talking about them at all. Instead he looked beyond party and national divides, calling on people to work together in Britain, and in Europe.
A year ago, I wrote about how Nick evoked faith.
Today, it was hope: “We are the only party that will put money into people’s pockets with fair tax cuts. The only party to offer universal childcare and smaller classes in our primary schools. The only party that will use Gordon Brown’s wasted billions to create thousands of jobs today by investing in homes, hospitals, schools and public transport to build the green economy of tomorrow. The only party that will rebuild the jobs, homes and hopes this recession has destroyed. So don’t believe the doubters, the nay-sayers, the professional cynics. This time it can be different.”