Nick Clegg’s spring conference speech seems to have been written entirely with Nigel Farage in mind. The Lib Dem leader has decided to go after the Ukip chief, and today’s address was the latest example of the old party of protest directly engaging with the new one. Where Farage had a slogan about loving Britain and voting Ukip (which would have been better if it hadn’t been borrowed from the BNP), Clegg had a whole Love Actually-esque speech about it, ranging from affectionate asides about cups of tea and queues to this country’s love of freedom and its generosity.
It was pretty difficult to disagree with anything that the Deputy Prime Minister said about the lovely things about Britain. But his assessment of Britain’s future was of course markedly different to the one that Farage offers because Clegg wants to make loving Britain about voting IN rather than out of the European Union. The two men can scrap like characters in Bridget Jones over who loves Britain more in their radio and television debates.
But he also suggested that loving Britain involves loving coalition, and to that end he gave us two equally-sized chunks of criticism of the Tories and Labour – just to show that he dislikes them both equally. He told the conference that Labour stood for ‘profligacy, economic incompetence, a bloated and cumbersome state’, anti-business sentiment, trade union power and recalcitrance over the economy. Meanwhile, the Tories were responsible for ‘widening inequality, a remorseless shrinking of our public services’ and were keen to protect the wealthy and single out the poor.
Instead, the Lib Dems are ‘the only party who will not ask the British people to choose between a stronger economy and a fairer society’. Clegg also came close to suggesting that the Lib Dems could end boom and bust by saying ‘instead of fake booms and reckless consumption, we invest in growth that is balanced and sustainable’.
As for whether Nick Clegg himself will be the man doing all of this after 2015, there seems to have some amusing kerfuffle for most of today over if, when, and in what circumstances the Deputy Prime Minister might step down. Sam Coates from the Times has been following the twists and turns all day.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.