Tim Farron’s speech to this year’s autumn conference was rather muted compared to his effort in Birmingham last year. The Liberal Democrat president did take the opportunity to attack both Labour and the Tories, of course, because that is his job, but he did not talk about Conservatives speaking ‘drivel’, or about divorces.
He described Labour’s record in government as ’13 years of a Labour government: what a mandate, what a disappointment’, and delivered the obligatory Liberal Democrat attack on the banks.
But other than praising Nick Clegg for preventing a majority Conservative government in the 2010 election, his overt criticism of the Tories was limited to a list of what the Lib Dems had achieved (including blocking the reintroduction of a two-tier exam system) and an attack on climate change sceptics. He quoted the campaign slogan ‘vote blue, go green’, adding, ‘so, Dave, how’s that going?’ He joked that from hugging huskies, the Prime Minister had gone to sending Zac Goldsmith straight to voicemail.
Environment is one of the key areas of differentiation for the party this autumn, particularly now a climate sceptic, Owen Paterson holds the Defra brief following the reshuffle. But having a whinge about the two parties’ differences on climate change is not a particularly aggressive line of attack.
Last year Farron came under fire within his party for making a speech that was too violent in its criticism of the Tories and possibly even too naked in its ambition for a future leadership bid. This year he played it safe, still setting heads nodding in the auditorium, still receiving a standing ovation, but not whipping delegates up into a frenzy.