Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Three things we learnt from Nick Clegg’s comeback speech

Nick Clegg gave his mop-up speech today after the European elections. It was an attempt to reassure his party that he has listened to their concerns, and to tell everyone else watching that he’s nowhere near giving up. Alongside his new budgetary rules, there were also three very interesting aspects of the speech worth considering:

1. The Lib Dems believe they have the moral high-ground.

There is something fascinating about the mindset of a party leader who thinks that calls to set out his core beliefs can be satisfied with the following platitudes:

  • You can be fair but responsible with it.
  • You can be credible without being cruel.
  • You can free our children from our debts while investing in their futures too.
  • We don’t write off anyone and we don’t think that politicians and governments know best.

I’ve yet to hear a politician who says ‘actually, I don’t really believe in people’ or ‘wouldn’t it be great if we were honest that being unfair is fun?’ Yet Clegg is setting up a divide with the other parties that is essentially ‘as Lib Dems we care about people, and the rest of you don’t’. It might be quite appealing to some voters who hold themselves in similar high esteem, but it’s not really a core belief. Unless you are a particularly self-loathing politician, you’ll argue from whatever ideological standpoint that you’re in politics to help people and increase opportunity (even if the truth is rather more complicated than that).

Clegg sketched out where the other parties stand – ‘Labour think that good things are done to people, not by people’ and the Conservatives ‘basically believe in conserving the pecking order as it is’. But when he got to arguing that the Lib Dems ‘just see the world differently’ and are not a ‘split the difference’ party, his definition of what it means to be a Lib Dem slipped back into platitude, not something that offered a particularly strong whiff of an underpinning philosophy.

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