So, now that I have shaped my thoughts by reorganising the speech itself, what do I make of it?
Well, the delivery (which you can see here) was interesting. It showed great promise, but I suspect that the audience didn’t get as fired up as it might have done owing to what sounds to me like a rather acoustically cavernous hall
(picture here: ). Occasionally Nick seemed to expect the audience to applaud when they didn’t, and conversely, sometimes they applauded when he didn’t expect it. His improvised “Hang on, it’s my speech” in response to some unintended audience participation was funny by itself, but had the effect of divorcing the “No.” from the rhetorical question it answered. He could have solved this by simply repeating the question. All in all, a good start, but I expect that, like Ming, his speech-making will improve with time.
Style is all very well, but what about substance? Well, here, I will break into lists, since they are as fast a way as any of saying what you liked and what you didn’t.
Things I Liked
-Obliquely mentioning the Europe debacle early in the speech, and going on to say quite firmly “You can expect more of this approach from me” about the walkout, whilst maintaining a contrite silence on the Three-Line Whip, but going on to describe himself as “a passionate promoter of the European Union and Britain’s place at its heart.”
-The featuring political reform prominently. Those of us who always felt we should never stop making noise about PR have plenty to be happy about here.
-The “vested interest” analysis of politics, from his characterisation of Labour as trade unions and Tories as big business when he joined the party, to the later reasoning on why they other parties will never truly change the system now. It is a much neglected way of thinking, in my view – probably because we, as liberals, like to think that we hold our ground for rationally argued reasons and not because they are in our interests; not everyone is like that.
-Contrasting Vince with George Osborne.
-The life-expectancy tube journey.
-The importance of mental health.
-The marvellously liberal section on giving people second chances and caring for people as we punish them. I hope some awful Tory somewhere had a seizure at this point.
– The urgency of climate change.
– A trenchant line on foreign policy.
Things I Wholly Disagree With
-Err…. not a lot. Oh:
-His comment that “When you’re struggling to keep your head above water, buying a wormery or going organic seems like a luxury for someone else.” I have no problems with wormeries, I should make clear. But I do have a problem with the suggestion that the organic movement and the wider environmental movement are necessarily bedfellows of any description. Climate change is not going to be helped at all by inefficient farming practices motivated by an ignorant fear of “chemicals” (as if everything weren’t a “chemical” of some description). And yes, I know, pesticides, water table, blah blah. But this is about priorities. All concerns about the biosphere more generally are secondary to combating climate change, and we should be happy to say so. Sounding like some dopey middle class eejit seeking to bring the wonders of organic sun dried tomatoes and wormeries to the great unhosed isn’t going to help at all.
Niggles – Could Be Improved
-The section about maybe possibly lowering the overall tax take if we don’t need the money for our plans at the next election. Anyone paying attention will have realised that this was nothing but mood music to attract disaffected Tories, containing as it did no actual policy commitments, and as such could probably have been shorter. As it was, it sounded as if he was trying to make it sound like more than it was.
So all in all, rather more to like than not, but then, I am in his party for a reason, and after all, isn’t that what conference is there to persuade us?