My twenty-ninth conference working for the party was very different to my first.
My heart wasn’t in my mouth.
Like many seasoned conference goers and professional staff I know the routines and the requirements. In any event, the party is generally a more organised and self-disciplined organisation these days. That has dangers of its own of course, with the chance that people might get complacent.
That wasn’t the case in Birmingham. And two very different veterans – one a senior national politician and the other a senior local politician – both said privately, and quite separately, that Nick Clegg’s was the best leader’s speech they had seen in years.
Clegg was passionate, a fact not overlooked by writers such as Ann Treneman. He was also angry – angry at the way public expectation has been so trodden down that the public now demand less of our politicians and our country than they are entitled to.
With a relatively short speech by modern political standards, his message was sharp and to the point: ignore the pundits warning you of this outcome or that. If you like what you see, have the confidence to vote for it: vote Lib Dem and get Lib Dem.
At the last election one in four voters voted Lib Dem. If that were raised to one in three, the Lib Dems would be the next Government. Put like that it makes you realise how much the political landscape has shifted since 1951 when over ninety per cent of the population voted either Labour or Tory.
The policy pledges for this election are clear and to the point – and bear repeating so that there is no mistaking the Lib Dem’s commitments:
Fair taxes that puts money back in your pocket
- The first £10,000 you earn tax-free: a tax cut of £700 for most people
- 3.6m low earners and pensioners freed from income tax completely
- Paid for by closing loopholes that unfairly benefit the wealthy and polluters
A fair chance for every child
- Ensure children get the individual attention they need by cutting class sizes
- Made possible by investing £2.5bn in schools targeted to help struggling pupils
- Cut student debts and make a degree affordable for all
A fair future: creating jobs by making Britain greener
- Break up the banks and get them lending again to protect real businesses
- Honesty about the tough choices needed to cut the deficit
- Green growth and jobs that last by investing in infrastructure
A fair deal for you from politicians
- Put trust back into politics by giving you the right to sack corrupt MPs
- Restore and protect hard won British civil liberties with a Freedom Bill
- Overhaul Westminster completely: fair votes, an elected House of Lords, all politicians to pay full British taxes.
As I left Birmingham, looking out of the train window at a landscape that has at different times been at the heart of our industrial economy, I felt a genuine excitement at being a member of a party that was making a firm commitment to helping Britain start building things again – turning Britain into a world-leader in green industries such as hi-tech wind-turbine production. It was a real revelation to think that our economy needn’t be reliant on the service industry of the city, with all its old boy networks and incomprehensible lexicon of hedge funds and futures and trades. It could instead witness a 21st Century reinvention of our manufacturing industry, with vital plant and equipment made in Britain for the benefit of our economy as well as benefiting the wider environmental interests of the international community.
Exciting, too, to hear the clear ambition to help people back into work and break the humiliation and hopelessness of trying to make ends meet on benefits, by proposing a radical and costed overhaul of taxation to lift the income tax threshold to £10,000. Is there a bolder commitment from any other party to put real cash back into the pockets of those who need it most?
If you missed the speech, but are interested in seeing what Nick Clegg said, look at the clip below or take a moment to read the text.