Nick Clegg’s angry dolphin

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Clegg has come up with a great Cleggism today: “ferocity with a purpose.”

I think it’s actually the first genuinely candid thing he’s said all week. What he’s basically saying is that all this talk about “savage” cuts and doom and gloom as been a calculated attempt to wrong foot the party and “drag” (his word according to the FT) the party over to his and Vince Cable’s position.

So when I complained earlier this week to the BBC that he was playing to the gallery and that conference felt like having a drunk pick a fight with you in a pub, it turns out that is exactly how Nick wanted me to feel.

All Terribly Clever of course, I’m surprised he is now bragging about it though. I have to admit that this blog indulges in a bit of ferocity with a purpose itself from time to time, which is how it has acquired the reputation it has.

So, in this spirit of glasnost, I am hereby changing the subtitle of this blog in deference to my leader.

UPDATE: As the FT article in question has vanished behind it’s firewall, I am including the relevant section here:

Mr Clegg is unrepentant. In a Financial Times interview, he says that describing looming cuts as “savage” was part of an attempt to “acclimatise the party to a changing environment”.

He would not relish cutting back the state. But he admits that he and Mr Cable have had to “drag” the party into a more realistic position that might include a freeze on overall public spending and shelving plans to abolish university tuition fees.

This has led to resentment and anger from a party whose commitment to public services is almost as profound as its love of deliberative (and cumbersome) policy- making. Mr Cable, in particular, has come under fire for failing to consult.

But Mr Clegg says Mr Cable has given the party economic credibility unimaginable in recent years. “There have been conferences in the past when we debated whether the royal family should smoke marijuana,” he jokes.

He rejects suggestions of tensions with a man whose popularity has transcended that of the party. “I feel like the captain of a cricket team who has the best batsman around.”

The Liberal Democrat leader closes his conference knowing that he badly needs to simplify his party’s message, and that beyond the cuts the party has a positive view of the future. He calls this “ferocity with a purpose”

5 thoughts on “Nick Clegg’s angry dolphin

  1. Alas, James, I was defeated by the Financial Times registration wall and haven’t read the piece; I’m sure that I have registered previously with the FT, but I’ll have to guess what he said. Perhaps you could edit your post and quote the most pertinent remarks?

    With the exception of the Conservatives, all parties face problems squaring off historical spending pledges versus current economic reality. The Ed Balls statement on reducing spending within schools this week was far more ridiculous than anything proposed at LD conference. The Conservatives, of course, don’t need to worry about historical pledges because Cameron promised a clean policy sheet when elected. In hind sight, it is a pity that Huhne and Clegg did not agree a similar LD pledge.

    Clegg’s gamesmanship was probably the right thing to do if it encourages the different policy lobbies to focus on cost and returns. However, making notes for your retirement memoirs about how cleverly you acted is something that you record privately rather than in journalist company.

  2. James, first off, thanks for your postings from Conference. I missed it this year, apart from some coverage on BBC Parliament, and the standard hatchet job on all efforts to project ourselves positively undertaken by Brillo Pad Neil on The Daily Politics. But this year we seemed to go out of our way to make it easy for him: “savage cuts”, the tuition fee confusion, the FPC rearguard action, the on-the-hoof mansion tax which seemed to wobble off the rails almost immediately, and Evan Harris’s own special form of cheerleading.

    The consensus in the press seems to be that Clegg’s speech rectified some of the damage: purposeful and ambitious, they said. Yet I wouldn’t eulogise about the language. “Ferocity with a purpose”, and “progressive austerity”, both sound to me like the classic efforts of Clegg’s acolytes to say something imposing and impressive, but actually being confusing and eminently forgettable. And the overall message of the week was what exactly? That the Leadership is completely prepared to piss off it’s own party’s activists, but we’re not entirely sure why, or how much?

    Seven months out from a general election which should be manna from heaven for politics’ perennial outsiders, and we’re flatlining. Commentators often wonder why our poll ratings have not risen despite Vince Cable’s rampant popularity; a more pertinent enquiry would be what level they would be at without it.

    All this makes me wish for the halcyon days of chat-show Charlie. Seven months out in late 2004 it seemed we had principle, purpose and popularity; now it seems that we have now descended into a bland and confused Blairite managerialism which fails to inspire the public and hacks off most of our own activists.

    I’m still prepared to be convinced by Clegg, but I’m not very close. Of course, the past 6-8 months have been better: there’s the Ghurkas and leading the charge against Speaker Martin on the plus side, but sadly the impressions which will likely last are the GQ interview and the Lisbon Treaty self-immolation. Being tricked by Piers Morgan was naive, but the result is that Clegg’s openness about his own sexual proclivities is the one fact which most of the public have committed to memory about him. The about-face on the European Constitution referendum was as bizarre as it was unbalanced, and it has given many voters who might otherwise have given us a fair hearing good reason to doubt our veracity.

    For all the occasional non-appearances through – we imagine – being tired and emotional, the salad days of chatshow Charlie were happier and more optimistic times for us Lib Dem activists. Personally, I’d take one drunk and unreliable Charles Kennedy over a hundred blandly forgettable Cleggs every single day.

    Chancellor Cable may be precisely what the country hankers for, but our failure to make a sufficient impact even with the wind behind us has made that outcome virtually impossible.

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