Friday, September 24, 2010

Live Blogging Nick Clegg's Speech to #LDConf

Well I know that I am renowned for being late to everything, but surely a claim to be live-blogging something 4 days after the event is a bit much?

I was away with the family in Dundee when Nick stood up to make his speech to the Conference on Monday and it's only now that I have the chance to sit down and watch it, so I wanted to record my initial reaction as it happened for my own benefit.

I guess the person googling for Nick's speech in 6 months' time won't care that this version was 4 days late.

I have kept myself pure - deliberately not reading or watching any reports of the event apart from a quick glance at Helen Duffett's blog post entitled Conference needs Claptrap but I didn't delve too deeply when I realised that she was talking in part about his speech.

Anyway, I've got to the bit in the infernally wickedly sky plussed BBC Parliament coverage where they have stopped showing the coverage in the hall because the Party Treasurer is asking the representatives for money. It's a legal requirement apparently. Of all the laws that need scrapping - it's a pity that the Your Freedom website is no longer taking submissions. I mean, you can show fairly graphic sex and violence, daytime tv is full of ads from companies offering "debt-busting loans" but you can't show a political party asking for money from its own members. Utterly bizarre.

Anyway, what follows is now my reaction to the speech as it happens:

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, Nick's wife, sits next to Danny Alexander.

Now we get Nick the Election Movie - the reaction to Cleggmania, his words on the steps of Cowley Street to the Take Back Parliament demonstrators, walking into Downing Street, the press Conference in Downing Street, giving labour what for from the Despatch Box, telling them the Coalition did more for lowest paid in 10 weeks than they managed in 13 years, his first PMQs.

And now the Deputy Prime Minister walks on to the sort of music that makes you tingle.

He talks about his first speech as leader in the very hall 2.5 years ago- he said  the chance for change was within our reach. The chance came and we responded with courage and conviction, confounding the cynics who said coalition was impossible.

We created a Govt which will govern well for five years. We are challenging years of convention and tradition and our opponents will yell and scream.

"I am so so proud of the quiet courage and determination which you have shown through these momentous times in British political history. Hold our nerve and we will have changed British politics for good. Hold our nerve and we will have changed Britain for good."

Progress to date:

We've ended the injustice of rich paying less in tax than poor - (well, a bit, anyway says I)

We've guaranteed older people decent increase in pension

Freedom Bill to come in November

ID Cards gone by Christmas

Banking levy from New Year's Day to fill black hole they helped create

April - 800,000 people out of tax altogether

May  - people get chance to choose their voting system

Next Sept - pupil premium

We were the face of change and we're now the agents of change.

Joked that Conference policy battles helped negotiators forge Coalition Agreement

"I still believe that the Iraq War was illegal (to loud applause), the difference is that lawyers now get anxious when I mention it!

"I still believe in committments to developing world and later this week I get to make that happen"

"I still campaign for political reform, the difference is I'm now legislating for it as well."

Joke that he's still trying to convince his kids that going from leader to Deputy PM is not a demotion.

"We will take risks in Government but we will not lose our soul. We will not lose our liberal values" - darned right

Next section matches up four pledges in election to progress made - fairer taxes, fair start to every child, a new, green economy and cleaning up politics.

"This Coalition Agreement isn't the Liberal Democrat manifesto. It's not the Conservative manifesto. I believe in it."

People maybe expected us to wait on the sidelines, to stay in opposition. But door to change we wanted was open - if we had walked away, how could we have asked the voters to take us seriously?" I doubt many in the party would argue with that.

"You don't get to choose your moment. When the opportunity to shape your country comes your way, you get to choose what you do."

The election result gave all parties the mandate to govern differently. The coalition parties have become more than the sum of our parts as often happens in life. We can be braver, fairer and bolder than one party acting alone.

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are and always will be parties with different histories and separate futures but for this Parliament we work together. This is the right government for right now.

Now the tough bit - spending cuts:

The only choice to bring back hope and optimism to our nation. We can't see the debts mounting up. The numbers sound alarming but it doesn't feel bad. How did this happen? Over recession 6% of our economy disappeared. We are poorer than we expected to be - all the old predictions are wrong and we can't keep spending money as if nothing had happened.

He used a good example of a family on £26,000 spending £32000 while still with debts of £40,000.

He then picks up on a point I've been making for ages about Labour Councils leaving a total guddle for successors to sort out.

He then asked if you would ask your kids to pay your credit card bill - someone seemed to have yelled out yes but he had a bit of good humoured ad libbing.

We are not dismantling the state - even after all the cuts we will still be spending 41% of our national income, same as in 2006.

Delay would make problems worse - because debts mount up and would prolong the pain.

Government's aim is that by next election, we will have wiped the slate clean for the next generation. We will not repeat the mistakes of 1980s where whole communities were hollowed out.

He knows people are concerned about the effect on the north, Scotland and Wales. We will make the cuts as fairly as possible. It will not be like the 1980s. We will not let capital investment in new buildings fall behind. We have £1bn regional growth fund to help areas worst affected.

I liked his scales hand gesture when he talked about rebalancing the economy.

He understands why public sector workers feel that it's not fair that they have to pay the price for a recession they didn't cause. He agrees and talks about measures to regulate the banks and make they pay more in taxes. We've done more in 5 months than Labour ever did to sort out greed and recklessness of banks.

"They (banks) helped to bring down our economy and it must never happen again".

He talks about benefit fraud and tax evasion in equal terms - stealing from your neighbours. To be honest, I have more sympathy with someone on benefits who can't make ends meet than some rich millionaire who sticks two fingers up to the tax man.

Nick talks about giving power away, decentralising, giving Councils real freedom. He says we'll put local government back in charge of the money it raises and spends.

Councils are to get the power to borrow against extra business rates to pay for additional new developments - the first step to breathing life back into our cities - transforming old heavy industrial sites into something worthwhile.  I guess that one makes sense.

Labour never really understood putting power in local hands - leadership candidates trying to forget but we never will - and then listed all the nasty things they did - locking up more children than anywhere else in W Europe, attacking civil liberties, kow towing to banks, taking us to brink of bankruptcy.

Jokes about Labour memoirs - they've gone from nationalisation to serialisation.

A decent opposition has to provide a decent alternative - until they face up to what they did in Government they will continue to let people down in opposition.

"Imprisoned by timidity, Labour squandered a golden age. We must do more even though they left us with left."

"At times of great difficulty great things must be done"

1690 days until next election - we are not going to waste a single second. Our eyes are on the horizons, not the headlines.

He referred to schools debate - and said it wouldn't be Lib Dem conference if there wasn't a passionate debate.

He said he wanted all schools to be free - except without freedom to select brightest pupils while leaving everyone else.

Benefit reform - Labour's system pays people to live without hope of a better life instead of helping them to build a better life. Work essential to a person's sense of self worth - not sure I agree with that. What about raising the next generation? Some people can't take employment because of illness, or because they are caring for other relatives and saving the State a fortune in the process. Those people are worthwhile too. I don't believe for a moment that Nick thinks they aren't, but that's not what he said.

Nick asks us to imagine what it'll be like in 5 years' time, how we'll have a good record to campaign on.

"Never again will anyone be able to frighten the voters by claiming that coalition government doesn't work." Just imagine how different our country will be.

Britain in 2010 is anxious, but Britain in 2015 will be fair, strong, free and full of hope, a country we can be proud to hand on to our children. That's the goal.

Stick with us and we'll change Britain for good.

Speech ends to rapturous applause.

You have to admire the man. If I didn't know and trust his judgement and his instincts, I would be a lot more worried than I am about the next five years. If he, and the other Liberal Democrats weren't there, I'd be utterly petrified about what would happen to the poor and the vulnerable.

Nick knows fine why people like me are concerned about welfare reform - and he did try to tackle it head on. It's something that every government I've ever known has screwed up dramatically, with awful consequences for people.The bar is not very high.  I totally get that work brings more than financial rewards to people, but there has to be compassion for those who can't work, and those for whom there is no work. There also needs to be an understanding of what life is actually like. For me, this is the scariest area of what we're doing in Government and I suspect that I will always be wanting more.

Nick's speech was a serious one, but it was genuine, heartfelt, passionate and inspiring. These speeches aren't so much for the activists as for the public because to a certain extent, he the Party has reconciled itself and adjusted to the Coalition and is just hoping to goodness it all works out. This is a chance for the public to hear the Liberal Democrat thought process, in full, for the first time after 4 months of Labour carping. I think he did what was required of him as a statesman, as a deputy Prime Minister. He seems to me to be in a job that is absolutely perfect for him and that's made him so much more assured than he used to be.

I like the fact that he didn't try to duck any of the hard stuff, speaking directly to public sector workers who faced losing their jobs.  The thing about Nick is that he does understand, because he takes the time to listen.

His job was to show that the Liberal Democrats were changing things for the better, were making a difference within the Coalition and I think he achieved that and more. It's next year's speech, and the year after's, delivered at the most challenging points of the Coalition's terms that will be the most difficult, and the most important.

So that's the end of my belated live blog. I hope it's clear enough which are Nick's comments and which are my observations.

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