I had a slightly surreal experience with Nick Clegg's speech today. I was on a panel for BBC Radio 5 Live being interviewed by John Pienaar along with Olly Grender and Simon Hughes MP. Olly apologised for not having read my blog, although she said she would. I'll believe it when I see a comment from her! We were up on the balcony with headphones on for the pre-speech interviews and I stayed there for the speech as John was going to come back to us for comments afterwards (although in the end the speech overran and they couldn't squeeze us in). I was facing the wrong way so there was much neck craning!
The speech itself was delivered very well I thought. There was some good stuff in there which I will come to but there was also a notable lack of any direct reference to the mansion tax and student fees debacle although it was alluded to. I really felt that he had to tackle this head on. I was reminded of how someone like Tony Blair would have done this. He always found a way to shrug these things off usually in a self-deprecating style which I think would have worked here. Nick chose not to.
Some other notable things for me:
- The Cameron and Brown bashing unsurprisingly seemed to go down well.
- It was his wedding anniversary today! I'm not sure how my wife would react if I spent our anniversary making a 45 minute speech like this...
- His comment about perhaps being a little bit blunt in interviews but at least it proves he is not being spun had unfortunate echoes of the "Not Flash, Just Gordon" slogan...
- What the hell is "progressive austerity"? I suspect they won't be talking about this down the Dog and Duck.
- When he talked about specific saving pledges and what could be done with the money he made no mention at all about tuition fees despite being specific in a number of other areas. The applause for this section was halting and hesitant.
- He made a very good point: "In Britain today, a poor, bright child will be overtaken by a less intelligent, but wealthier child by the time he is seven". This is dreadful but research I saw in Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" suggests that this can be attributed to the lack of summer reading and other extra-curricular educational activities that better off children are exposed to. I wonder if Clegg or his team have read any Gladwell.
- There was a good section on electoral reform where he pointed out the rottenness of the existing system and also seemed to me to be quoting figures from LDV's Dr Pack about almost half of seats not having changed hands during his entire lifetime. This section seemed to me to get the longest applause of the speech (apart from the end of course).
People I spoke to afterwards seemed to think that overall he had done well. I always expected he would deliver it well and he did.
I still think he needed to do more to calm some of the troubled waters the leadership have stirred up in the last few days and may come to regret not having done so.