Some observations from the Liberal Democrat Conference in Glasgow

Yes, I know. It was a few months ago. But I was tired after three conferences and went to play in Copenhagen and looked for Borgen filming locations (specifically: Café Wilder where Kasper asks for a smoothie and hits on Katrine in front of Lotte; and the wall on which Birgitte sits during the BBC FOUR series 3 trailer). See how easy it is to start writing about the Glasgow conference and end up in a different country entirely.

A different country entirely
A different country entirely

But if the Labour conference in Manchester had seen that party exhausted after, frankly, saving the Union – and David Cameron’s skin – there was little of Scotland in Glasgow.

The Lib Dems won my respect at this conference. They know they are on the motorway to oblivion. But here they discussed important things and future policies. They acted with some class and seriousness. Hardly any of the name-calling of PMQs – and the exception made the news. Their ministers – who were spread so thin as to be almost invisible (Steve Webb was double-quadruple (is that a word?) booked one lunchtime) considered thought-through ideas for future policies.

Sir Bob Russell MP drums up support for first aid in schools
Sir Bob Russell MP drums up support for first aid in schools

Norman Lamb’s comment that Ed Miliband isn’t, in his view, prime ministerial material, was pretty mild when compared against the way Cameron lashes out, but it stood out. As did Paddy Ashdown. People are always complaining that modern politicians lack charisma, and when Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are seen as the most charismatic of the current crop they have a point. Ashdown stood on the stage. He didn’t have to say anything. The fact he wasn’t wearing a tie sent a message, and the fact that the lack of a tie can still hold meaning sent its own message.

Tie-free Ashdown was among friends. This was supposed to be for party members only though a few of us others had snuck in. He was relaxed, with a tone that ranged from confessional and intimate to earthy and sweary. All the clichés apply about rock stars and audiences in palms of hands. I wanted to refer to him at some point in this piece as ‘Pantsdown’ to satisfy my inner 10 year-old, but after that performance I really can’t.

And yet Ashdown is class act enough to know he wasn’t the main attraction. I don’t understand the hatred that Nick Clegg often inspires but for Lib Dems he is their man. Even though his lack of tie sends out no message whatsoever. I watched a couple of people near me in the audience – in their twenties, they may live to see another Liberal Democrat administration. They politely applauded the rock star Ashdown. But when Clegg came on, they changed. Nick is their leader. Nick owns their love. They will run through walls between now and May for him.

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