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Are they really as ‘economically competent as they are socially fair’ as claimed in Nick Clegg's conference speech?

Thursday, October 09, 2014


The conference season is over for another year. Most of my fellow commentators have given the award for 'best leader's speech', quite rightly to David Cameron, but time will tell if the Prime Minister can deliver on his unfunded tax cuts and deficit reduction strategy.


For Ed Miliband the final conference speech before the general election will not go down as his finest hour. The Labour leader now has just seven months to seal the deal with the electorate if he's to get the keys to number 10.

As for Nick Clegg, he gave a solid performance yesterday in his speech and a passionate defence of the Lib Dems record in government. As was the theme of the conference lots of borderline hatred was expressed for both Labour and the Conservatives but of course he didn’t rule out going into coalition with either!

Pioneers for ‘unfashionable’ but worthy political issues

Before I go any further, it is worth saying that to their credit the Lib Dems have been a positive influence on British politics over the years.

In many ways they have been the pioneers in areas of public policy now well established that once upon a time were very unfashionable indeed. For example, gay rights, where the Lib Dems have long promoted equal rights for people who are gay and played their part to make gay marriage legal.

The Lib Dems have long championed the protection of our civil rights and have been at the vanguard of making the case for constitutional and electoral reform such as re-examining the House of Lords.

Nick Clegg continued that tradition by announcing some very aspirational policies on how we treat and support our fellow citizens with mental health problems, albeit, unfunded policies but hey, if Cameron can do it!

Rhetoric in a speech, but we’ve had five years of reality

Clegg acknowledged in his speech that the trebling tuition fees for students was a mistake. He can say that again. Considering the abolition of tuition fees was the Lib Dems flagship policy at the 2010 election, that policy U-turn is probably the single most defining thing to explain the complete collapse in Lib Dem support across the country.

It was also declared that Clegg and the Lib Dems would not let the poor and the working poor burden the cost of reducing the deficit. The reality? In the last five years, the coalition have reduced benefits for the poor and the working poor - they have introduced the so called 'bedroom tax' and seen huge cuts in housing benefit on their watch.

Tough talk from the Deputy Prime Minister on national security

Clegg reminded his audience, and the country, that he is Deputy Prime Minister with strong condemnation of ISIL. He stated "We are going to destroy your bases, we will cut off your supplies, isolate you from your support - and we are not going to stop until it's done!" What Nick failed to say was that is unless of course you're in Syria and of course we don't intend to increase funding in the armed forces to achieve what I have just said.

He then warned Theresa May, "don't play politics with national security.” The reality is of course, Lib Dems in government however well intentioned are certainly frustrating efforts to deal with home grown jihadists by insisting on too many safeguards in wider civil liberties.

Attacking UKIP and the SNP

Clegg promised to "defeat the politics of blame and grievance" rounding on UKIP and the SNP for dividing the country and promoting such politics in the first place. 

Again great rhetoric, but the reality is millions of people are voting for the SNP and UKIP because they feel they represent them and their concerns whilst deserting the Lib Dems because they don't.

My lasting impression

The Deputy Prime Minister finished the speech by expressing a view that students, the working poor, the aspiring middle classes, the disabled and working families could all possibly agree with. The Lib Dems, he said, "are as economically competent as we are socially fair."

But as I think we've seen, when you compare the reality of the Lib Dems record in government with Clegg's conference speech, I’m afraid you don’t have to dig too deep for huge holes to appear. 

Image by John Brigden


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