Well I turned up to the Blogger’s interview with Lionel and Schnauzoo in tow, they both got on well with Millennium. Met the fellow blogging interviewers in the lobby then headed up through the maze to the room where we were to meet the Leader to pose our questions. Both Linda and Jenny gallantly making their way on crutches.
Once we were all assembled with Nick Clegg in position Daddy Richard produced a yummy chocolate cake (as well as the muffins us Scots only normally hear rumours of like Brigadoon). So before the questions started I had a happy birthday from the leader. How many other conference attendees can say that? Anyhoo on with the questions.
Jenny opened with a question about the length that some people seemed to think our party took to respond when the whole expenses scandal started to unfold. Nick was a little taken aback by this and he was getting messages that he was coming out too hard, too fast from some quarters. He actually told us that a whole month before the Telegraph started to print their encyclopedia of expenses claims he had met with Messers Cameron and Brown to say that the whole MPs working the property market was one thing that had to be dealt with. We know now with hindsight how little action the other two leaders are prepared to take on property speculation, flipping and capital gains claiming our MPs are involved in.
He added that as Lib Dems we tend to once we occupy seats not take people for granted. The old adage there is no such thing as a safe Lib Dem seat keeping us more honest than the other parties where a person can be given as seat for life. To keep politics honest we need to reform the system to ensure that safe seats for life by FPTP, when the Government wants to hold them are a thing of the past.
The volunteers from vinspired asked why some employees do not take volunteering seriously. Nick said this was a shame as being a volunteer wasn’t a sign that you couldn’t do real work, but that you were prepared to put in the hours. He said that as a small ‘employer’ himself he did like it when someone had volunteering experience and wished that more people did so.
Ali Goldsworthy asked a question about controlling the agenda. Nick said that obviously one way to get the media to cover our agenda more equitably was to keep on growing. We need to keep making the assertions of who we are. Six million people voted for us at the last election more than any other Liberal party in Europe. Also he added that he seriously doubts that at the moment Gordon Brown seems to think that he is really in control of things.
The press are also buttering up the Tories, but all their talk of change is just that it is a fake change as when you scrape off the butter you can see the scorch marks in the toast*. We truly are on the change size of the equation. We have to say to those people who want change, what kind of new change are you looking for, and show them what we are offering. Power needs to be earned from the people not inherited. Labour seem to think that they should inherit the progressive mantel in this country, but they have started to lose their self confidence. Many of their great ideological bearing have been lost and many of their followers are lost without a compass of reference that they once had.
Daddy Richard raised the issue that this week while Vince was outlining our concrete proposals the press was more concerned about whether Gordon would use the word cuts. But added that if Polly Toynbee says the Lib Dems are coming we must be doing something right. Nick said that while he liked Polly as a person for someone who wants PR she has a very narrow view of what progressive really means? There are two distinct approaches, but she really is lacking in her pluralist thinking by ignoring our stance so much. But the people have been given a litany of failure and a broken progressive promise by New Labour over the past 12 years.
Mr Quist asked about the Grauniad headline about us making savage cuts. Nick said that ‘national debt had become a fact of life’ in running our countries finances. However, we are not bankrupt like the Tories are claiming. We are however in a completely new form of structural deficit, the likes of which we have not seen since the Second World War, if not worse. We don’t have the currency protection we had back then and people therefore have lost faith in UK PLC. The choices we have to make about spending have to be bold. But it would be foolish to affect the spending on our young people for example.
I said that I was glad to see that despite the difficult choices mentioned in Nick’s pamphlet we had not lost our emphasis on the need for Environmental change. Especially as Linlithgow is looking to head to be a carbon neutral town how can we keep this key focus on the agenda when other parties are cutting back on it because of the financial crisis. Nick said this time meant that our economic recovery was an opportunity to have all the chips up in the air and resettle them in a different way. We could look at tax redistribution, our basic core values and this crisis could be we could and should do a whole lot of things differently. Labour and the Tories before them had focused too much on the financial centre and our self interests in the City, ignoring manufacturing and the provinces. We need to come out of this with a sustainable plan. It is not sack clothe and ashes but an opportunity.
Dr Pack asked about Internet piracy and Lord Voldemort of Hartlepool and Foy’s three strike rule. Nick responded that from what he has seen every attempt to control the uncontrollable has failed. The people who are coming out in favour of giving it away for free are those who have already made their millions and it is the up and coming performers that will suffer. As Jenny pointed out some of the new artists are happy to give away their music for free but charge to see them live.
Back to Ms Toynbee and her claim that we have dropped our pledge to scrap tuition fees. The issue isn’t that we don’t want to it is sadly like other of our policies that cost money an issue that due to the mess that Labour have gotten us into it is a matter of how and when we can afford to bring them to be. It clearly is not possible for us to pretend that they are affordable right now, but we do have principles that will govern our choices and priorities.
- A sustainable green economy
- The future development of our young people
- Reinventing politics
The final question fell to Daddy Richard who said it was good to see we were putting forward our philosophy, but that a barrier to us inheriting the progressive mantel was the unionism and tribalism that shored up Labour. Nick agreed that the Union say over Labour was probably now again the main thing that was keeping them going. But added that so heavy a vested interest by any group or individual was a bad thing for our politics. However, he disagreed that tribalism for the past 20-30 years was breaking down. Look at the last few elections and you will see that tribalism has been replaced with anger, disinfection and outright apathy.
So I had a birthday interview with the leader, Lionel has now met both Mister Viking Leader and Captain Clegg. I do apologise for the delay on getting this online I had it written by lunch time yesterday, but a birthday at conference is just one of those things that trying to get online just doesn't seem to happen.
*My carrying on of the analogy not Nicks.