Clegg Vs party
06:30 24 September 2012
PA Wire/Press Association Images
“We are a very windy island,” said Nick Clegg without even the tiniest hint of irony while answering questions from party members at Liberal Democrat conference yesterday.
The session which saw the Lib Dem leader taking questions from an audience of hundreds was the kind of thing that might turn out to be a PR disaster for some, but not Clegg.
He has a very effective tactic for dealing with these situations, argumentativeness; not the clean, gentlemanly debating-for-honour type, but the playground finger-jabbing type. There was a lot of finger-jabbing, not to mention hand chopping. Mr Miyagi would have been proud.
When someone suggested the Lib Dems’ economic policy should be more left wing, with a big stimulus to prop up demand Clegg went into overdrive.
“What on earth do you call £40bn of guarantees,” he said despairingly. “Never done before,” he stated with three stiff jabs of his index finger that would have poked through sheet metal.
It didn’t help that the member who had started him off referred to the chancellor as “Peter Osborne”, confirming Clegg’s apparent assumption that the audience was not quite as well informed as he was.
Another lowly party member who highlighted comments Clegg once made in a television interview was met with the condesending sarcastic remark, “you seem to have a forensic memory of a particular interview.”
Then when the leader was challenged over whether further cuts would be made to government spending before 2015 he said the coalition would be sticking to spending plans already set out.
“Not a penny more, not a penny less,” he stated proudly, perhaps forgetting the phrase was also the title of a novel by Jeffrey Archer, a man not renowned for honesty.
But all in all Clegg will come away from the session feeling it was successful. There were no news lines, no howlers and no disasters and he managed to successfully subdue some insolent subordinates.
Now he just needs the same argumentativeness to work on the Tories, in particular the chancellor Peter Osborne, and he’ll be flying.