Nick Clegg’s conference speech, the live-blog

by Stephen Tall on September 23, 2009

Update: the full text of Nick’s speech is available on the party’s website here.

There’s a lot of expectation heaped on Nick Clegg’s shoulders ahead of his speech to the Lib Dem autumn conference in Bournemouth this afternoon. The media coverage has been less-than-glowing, fuelled by murmurs of discontent among party activists following Nick’s talk of the need for “savage” cuts, the row over the de-prioritising of the abolition of tuition fees, and Vince’s surprise announcment of a ‘mansion tax’.

So Nick will be looking to unite the conference hall this afternoon with a passionate statement explaining why the Lib Dems deserve the votes of the British public at the next election. Nick is, of course, an accomplished – seemingly nerve-less – public speaker, always at ease on the conference podium, and I don’t expect this afternoon to be any different. I’ll be live-blogging the speech as it proceeds, as well as keeping an eye on any Twitter reactions at libdemvoice.org/tweets. Join me at 3pm …

2.57 pm – Tim Farron has landed the always-popular job of asking Lib Dem delegates – who’ve already forked out hundreds of pounds this week in travel, accommodation and subsistence – for donations to the party. (As LDV’s @alexfoster tweets: ‘Pff. Like there’s anyone left who still has a £20 note at #ldconf after visiting the snackbar.’) He’s doing it with unashamed aplomb, to his credit. I’m quite relaxed about all this, as I’m watching proceedings from my sofa.

3.04 pm – Tim leading rousing round of applause – indeed a standing ovation – for the many Gurkhas gathered in the audience for Nick’s speech.

3.06 pm – the rumours are true, the stage really has been switched from yellow to blue aqua in readiness for Nick’s speech. Great tweet from @jamesgraham: ‘jamesgraham: Farron refers to Freddie Starr, Yogi Bear and Diff’rent Strokes. @liberalyouth collectively scratches their heads.’

3.12 pm – the anticipation builds, with an effective vox pop talking heads video saying why Dave and Gordon are rubbish, and Nick’s the second coming.

3.14 pmNick’s speech begins. And Nick starts on a sombre note, paying tribute to British service men and women at war in Afghanistan: “we salute them”. Nick calls for an “immediate change of course” in British policy:

We should either do this properly or we shouldn’t do it at all. So I say to the Prime Minister: time is running out. Unless you change course, there will be no choice but to withdraw, and that would be a betrayal of the servicemen and women who have already made such enormous sacrifices on our behalf.

3.18 pm – an abrupt change of tack. Having started with Prime Ministerial words, Nick says he wants to explain why he wants to be Prime Minister – it’s a tricky sentence for a Lib Dem leader to carry off, but I think he just about manages it:

I want to be Prime Minister because I have spent half a lifetime imagining a better society.
And I want to spend the next half making it happen.

3.20 pm – Nick revels in his soubriquet of a “good leader” ((C) Evan Harris). Is it me, or is he trying to draw a line under the mumblings of the last week? “Let’s always remember: we are in this together. So let us not look back any longer. Let us look forward.”

3.23 pm – Nick calls for an end to the old “blue-red, red-blue politics”, begins to warm to his theme of the need for real change. But first he scrutinises the other two parties. First up, Labour:

If you’re poor, you’re still far less likely to go to university than if you’re better off. If you’re from an ethnic minority, you’re more likely to be stopped by the police, even when you haven’t done anything wrong. If you’re a woman, you’ll probably be paid less than the men you know. And if you’re a child born in the poorest neighbourhood of my city, Sheffield , you will probably die 14 years before a child born the same day, just up the road, in a more affluent part of town. We have made our judgement of Labour. They betrayed the best hopes of a generation.

It’s getting the tweet thumbs-up from @jpshaddock so far: “Really being inspired by @nick_clegg’s speech so far”.

3.28 pm – Now it’s the turn of the Tories to get some stick:

To be fair, the Conservatives do have one belief: that it’s their turn to govern. They think power should come easily. You get the sense from so many of them that they became Conservatives mostly because it looked like the simplest route to a job in the cabinet.

3.29 pm – Nick explains why he’s different from David Cameron: “people compare me to Cameron because we’re both abouut 6-foot and born in the 1960s. By those criteria, I’m also rather like Brad Pitt!” Claims his wife, Miriam, would disagree with that comparison. Apparently, by the way, it’s their wedding anniversary. Round of appluase and a few “ahhhs”.

3.31 pm – Nick pays generous tribute to his predecessors, Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell, as well as to shadow cabinet colleague, Vince Cable:

Ours is the party – of Charles Kennedy, of Ming Campbell, who used all the courage of their convictions to oppose the illegal invasion of Iraq. Ours is the party of Vince Cable, the first to see problems brewing in our economy, the first with a vision of how to take us to recovery.

3.34 pm – Nick turns to the issue of the week: how can the party meet its commitments in these difficult financial times. Our manifestos in previous elections were right for the time, right for an “age of plenty” says Nick: “Now something different is needed”. In a nod towards those who’ve criticised the emphasis on gloom and doom in the leadership’s statements, Nick explains why he thinks it’s so important to keep a tight rein on the finances:

Fiscal discipline is not an end in itself. We offer discipline for a purpose, not just austerity, but progressive austerity. Reducing the deficit, yes, but also building a fair society and a green economy, still driven by generosity of spirit, but fit for the circumstances of the day. It’s the only way to deliver real change in Britain.

3.38 pm – A couple of tweets just in:

@burnaftereading: Watching Nick Clegg speech, very good!
@ssamani: Today is day that Nick Clegg will grow up in the electorate’s eyes. Unbelievable demonstration of his fitness to lead our country
@alexfoster: Liking this definition of progressive austerity – not savage cuts, but considered redistribution of spending and saving.

3.40 pm – And now here come the cuts, with Nick enumerating some of the savings the party has identified to save money:

Reducing the bureaucracy of Labour’s centralised state, databases and agencies. Cutting the cost of politics – changing our electoral system and having 150 fewer MPs. Reforming tax credits so they go to the people who really need them. Spending less on defence procurement … say[ig] no to the like-for-like replacement of Trident.

With these cust in place, says Nick, “we will still be able to include in our manifesto, despite these difficult times, some of the pledges for new investment that we hold so dear.” Even tuition fees, perhaps?

3.43 pm – a passionate section by Nick on the ways Labour has failed young people:

Young people are bearing too much of the burden of this recession. … I want to say, to young people.
I am sorry. I am sorry that you have been, already, let down so many times. I am sorry that you will spend your working lives burdened by the debts of a previous generation. … My commitment to the next generation is simple: the Liberal Democrats will not fail you.

3.47 pm – following on from young people, Nick emphasises need for investment in early years education:

To build a fair society, you have to start with children. And you have to start young. In Britain today, a poor, bright child will be overtaken by a less intelligent, but wealthier child by the time he is seven. This has to change.

And here’s one way how we can do this, says Nick:

… scrap the Child Trust Fund, which gives people a cash handout on their 18th birthday, and invest the money when it can really make a difference with classes of just 15 for five, six and seven year olds. The beginning of real change in Britain.

3.50 pm – and now Nick is onto taxation, and the audience is really warming up (now we’re past the spending cuts section):

We will raise the income tax threshold to £10,000, funded by closing loopholes that the wealthy exploit, and by making sure polluters pay for the damage they cause. I’ll be honest. If you’ve got a house worth over a million pounds; if you fly trans-Atlantic a couple of times a month; if you get a seven-figure bonus paid in share options to get round income tax – you will pay more. That is what is fair.

3.50 pm – first you get the tax rises, now here come the tax cuts (the bit of the programme the leadership has somehow failed to convey as well as they have the need for spending cuts and tax rises):

We will deliver fair taxes. Under a Liberal Democrat government, people will not pay a single penny of tax on the first £10,000 they earn. Millions of people will find themselves with an extra £700 in their pocket, and up to four million low earners and pensioners will pay no income tax at all. The beginning of real change in Britain.

3.55 pm – ah, now we’re onto electoral reform, and even, I fancy, a hat-tip to LDV’s Mark Pack for this electoral fact:

We must do away with safe seats. Did you know, nearly half of Britain ’s constituencies have elected the same party in every election since I was born? These are seats where you could put a red or blue rosette on the back end of a donkey and it would still win. Only when every MP has to do a decent job and win the trust of the people they represent will we ever clean up politics for good. It will be the beginning of real change in Britain.

3.57 pm – And now Nick is envisaging how a Lib Dem shadow cabinet would work in practise. Thanks to a tweet from @markpack, I can tell you the MPs name-checked were: Vince Cable, David Laws, Chris Huhne, Norman Lamb, Steve Webb, Sarah Teather, Norman Baker, Julia Goldsworthy and Simon Hughes. Read into that what you like – @nick4salisbury has:

Clever section of the speech – highly talent potential cabinet listed. We have an impressive team.

4.00 pm – Nick now talks about the key threat facing the UK – climate change – and the crucial need for an international response. Labour, he says, can’t be trusted:

It wasn’t just Iraq; it was their disregard for European colleagues, refusing to attend summits, grandstanding about how superior they were; it was their disregard for international law, their backroom deals with Saudi Arabia over BAE, with Libya over Lockerbie, with America over torture. Labour has undermined Britain in the world.

But how can the Tories restore Britain’s future, he asks:

David Cameron and William Hague think the nineteenth century state still makes sense in a twenty-first century world. They simply do not understand that in an age of globalisation power must be exercised by nations together, not squandered by nations going it alone.

Only the Lib Dems can be trusted to bat for Britain internationally: “We would secure Britain a stronger role in the world by putting us at the heart of the European Union and committing us to abide fully by international law. The beginning of real change for Britain.”

4.03 pm – Nick is well into his final section now, contrasting the tired, stale approaches of the Labour and Tory parties with the fresh start the Lib Dems offer. To those who voted Labour in 1997 (ahem, that’s me), were initially optimist and then grew disillusioned (yep), Nick makes an unashamed pitch:

Turn to the Liberal Democrats: we carry the torch of progress now.

He contrasts the different types of alternative to Labour offered by the Tories or by the Lib Dems:

The choice at the next election is fake change from the Conservatives, or real change from the Liberal Democrats.

4.05 pm – and Nick concludes with an optimistic pitch for the public to rally to the Lib Dems’ clarion call for change, real change in British politics:

Britain needs leadership from a party with real passion, and it’s the Liberal Democrats. There is hope for a different future, a different way of doing things in Britain , if we are brave enough to make a fresh start. … If you want things to be different, really different, choose the party that is different. Choose the Liberal Democrats.

4.10 pm – And so Nick’s second autumn conference speech as leader, and the last this side of a general election, concludes. I’m not sure it was his best, most fluent performance ever, but it will, I think, have done the job, and will have sent activists away happy – and will have played well beyond the conference hall. Here are a few of the post-speech tweets:

BridgetFox Wow, what a speech, really passionate call to ‘vote LibDem for real change’ Nick Clegg
caronmlindsay Genuine, serious speech from Clegg. I also liked the fact that he showcased his entire team. He’s the PM we really need.
SandraGidley Excellent leaders speech – actually stayed awake!
mariejenkins Best speech I’ve ever heard from Clegg, even if he didn’t mention tuition fees.
annapascoe Nice one Nick. I’m off home to deliver some real change for Britain…
nick4salisbury Solid speech from Clegg. Smart messages, good content, delivered with honesty.
NickThornsby Clegg’s best speech ever
hypnotic Amazingly inspirational speech made more amazing by the fact it finished on time
mariejenkins Best speech I’ve ever heard from Clegg, even if he didn’t mention tuition fees.
liberalyouth Absolutely cracking speech from @nick_clegg to finish off conference
BBCLauraK: Evan Harris,sometime Clegg critic,says speech was ‘great not good’