“On message. In volume. Over time.” That’s the real text of Nick Clegg’s speech today

by Stephen Tall on March 10, 2013

Double Clegg 2 - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsIt took 3,000+ words and Nick Clegg 30 minutes to deliver them — but there was only one message he wanted to be heard in his leader’s speech today:

Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

That’s the core message, one that’s been tested in polling and was tested in real polling in Eastleigh. And it’s the message the party leadership wants the party to get sick of repeating ad infinitum for the next two years in the hope its drip-drip-drip will gradually resonate with the wider public.

And in case you didn’t get it first time, Nick repeated it, making sure that we knew he was repeating it:

Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life. Get used to those words, Conference. Get used to saying them. That’s the message I need you to deliver across the country. I need you to explain it to people each and every day, from now, for the next two years and beyond. Tell them that only the Liberal Democrats have the values and ideas to build a better future. Tell them that only we can deliver the stronger economy and fairer society Britain needs.

As Nick’s strategy advisor, Ryan Coetzee, has described it before, and did so again mid-speech today:

The message may not excite Lib Dem activists — it seems to some to be splitting-the-difference between us and the Labour/Conservative parties, defining us in opposition to them — but, then, it’s not really intended for core Lib Dem voters. It’s a message aimed squarely at the persuadable, floating voters, those currently saying they’ll vote for another party but who may switch and those who are genuinely unsure what they’ll do next time round.

It strikes me as plausible. It certainly strikes me that it’s good the party has a clear, tested message and is determined to stick to it: this slogan is for a parliament, not just a conference. After all, remember Nick Clegg’s slogan this time last year? “We are the One Nation party” was Nick’s theme in March 2012. Used once and discarded, it was later picked up by Ed Miliband who has sought to make it his own and define the party around it.

This year’s speech was bound going to be tough-going for Nick. Many in the conference hall were angry at the party leadership’s flouting of conference wishes on ‘secret courts’, and (as I explained here) in particular the way in which the leadership has ignored the party membership.

Nick didn’t change his speech to accommodate this morning’s defeat of his position. Instead, he stuck resolutely to his message: Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life. The problem for Nick is that he needs eager volunteers willing to deliver that message, just as hundreds, thousands, did with such enthusiasm at Eastleigh — and his actions this weekend have made that less, not more, likely to happen.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.