Nick Clegg had a tough speech to deliver in Birmingham today. Support in both his party and the country at large has fallen away in the 500 days since the election.
"Not easy but right" was a phrase he used often. He used the old ply of
"this conference hall stands on the site of...." to link his speech to
Liberal history. Barack Obama used a similar gambit in his brilliant
"more perfect union" speech in Philadelphia in March 2008. Nick Clegg is
not a great orator (nor is Barack Obama in my view), but he knows how
to deliver a political speech to an audience outside the hall.
He indulged in plenty of Labour-bashing, but said barely a word about
his coalition partner, for obvious reasons. The Tories have taken a lot
of stick from other conference speakers, but the Deputy PM was having
none of it. He tried a few lines of humour, such as the gifts exchanged
between him and the French President (Kendal Mint Cake). Alas, the
jokes were weak, and his delivery somewhat wooden. There was also the
conference cliche of the personal story ("One young woman called Chantal
told me..."). There was a good line about being "in nobody's pocket"
that drew prolonged applause.
It was a fairly sombre speech overall, without any specific promises,
and it was received well, if not rapturously. Paddy Ashdown, a party
darling, received several mentions and praise.
He closed with a good triplet-based crescendo about the riots: "Britain
is our home. We will make it safe and strong. These are our children.
We will tear down every barrier they face. And this is our future. We
start building it today."
Overall, a steady-as-she-goes speech, which was competent rather than spectacular.
MediaCoach Speechindex : 6 out of 10.