by Stephen Tall on September 18, 2008
Lib Dem Voice has devoted some space this week to our Media Moron Watch – so let’s redress the balance and highlight a handful of articles which have attempted fair analyses of Nick Clegg’s speech and the Liberal Democrat conference. A couple are pretty positive, a couple less so: but they’re all thoughtful:
Against the odds, the Liberal Democrats have held a successful conference. Tumultuous events elsewhere meant media attention was limited, but they managed still to convey, with some success, a new message. They wish to be seen as Britain’s new radical tax-cutting party, one that is still committed to social justice. The fact that the message got anywhere at all was remarkable, as they have yet to offer any precise details about how they will cut the overall amount paid in tax. Nonetheless, they have conveyed the same message to themselves as well, the equivalent of conjurors falling for their own trick. … [The party] needs to send out signals in what for them is a highly complex and changed political situation, needing to defend themselves against a more popular Conservative party while seeking to make the most of a decline in support for Labour. At the broadest strategic level, they have pulled it off, with an offer of tax cuts while retaining a commitment to social justice.
They have done it in such a way to make nonsense of claims that the party is moving rightwards. There were two challenges for Nick Clegg as he delivered his first address to the party conference. One related to a question of style. Could he pull off the daunting task of delivering a big speech at his annual conference? The answer was an unequivocal “Yes”. He looked at ease as he wandered around the stage aided by the invisible autocue.
In terms of substance, he more or less pulled it off as well, stressing that he was as committed to social justice as previous leaders and yet outlining a distinctive pitch far removed from the Conservatives and Labour in its current plight. On the stage, although not in all the interviews he has given this week, he looked entirely comfortable, much more so than his immediate predecessors.
These generally warm words are echoed by the Indy’s editorial:
… Nick Clegg, the party’s young leader, has been able to carve out some distinctive policies and, just as important, get them through an unruly party. … the party leadership has produced a package of eye-catching policies calculated precisely to appeal to the middle-of-the-road voters it must gain if it is to hold on to its position in Parliament at the next election. … Much of the credit for this realignment must be put down to Nick Clegg himself, a new leader who, after his gaffe on pensions, gave a persuasive speech yesterday that covered a range of issues with a beguiling tone. The Lib Dems still face an uncertain future when no one can be quite certain which way the votes will fall at the next election. But, given a clutch of Labour seats, it still stands a chance of holding the ring. This week’s conference has certainly helped it on its way.
On the other hand, The Times’s Peter Riddell is far more critical, awarding Nick 6/10 at best:
He does not have the authority or instinctive feel on financial matters of Vince Cable. Yesterday’s speech, like his hectic media activity this week, was mainly about establishing his identity as leader. In that, he has had a reasonably successful week. He has also showed that he is very different from David Cameron. … there was little sign in Mr Clegg’s speech of the tough choices ahead, of the tensions between being green and enhancing competitiveness. Hence public transport expansion is supposed to be funded through charges on road haulage. Moreover, there is no way that energy security can be secured by a big extension of renewables when “dirty coal” as well as nuclear power stations are opposed. This is gesture policymaking. The Lib Dems seek to be a larger opposition party, not a contender for power. Having credible alternative policies is, perhaps, secondary. That means the Lib Dems will continue to be treated as a protest party.
Not so, says The Guardian’s editorial, though, which is much warmer:
[Nick Clegg’s] performance more than passed muster, rattling along with a cheerful confidence that consolidated his position at the end of a successful conference. But his thoughtful passages were hidden among some tinny language. The speech confirmed Mr Clegg’s work of ideological re-engineering. He has moved his party away from an unquestioning faith in the state. … He aims to make his party a plausible alternative to both its rivals, especially on the economy, where Vincent Cable has led the way not just in warning of a debt-driven downturn, but in suggesting what government should do about it. Dr Cable has had a terrific conference, and while some might suggest that should trouble Mr Clegg, it does not seem to. It is surely healthy for the party to appear more than a one-man band.
At its best – as in the debate on taxation and parts of yesterday’s speech – the conference showed the Lib Dems to be distinctive and interesting: more than a vehicle for protest. Much of that is owed to Mr Clegg’s leadership. He is impressively confident about the progressive possibilities of liberalism.
Of course I’ve tended to quote the best bits – but, hey, this is Liberal Democrat Voice. And besides, they’re the bits I agreed with most