Sketch: The oh so serious Lib Dems

The Lib Dem leader wants to be taken seriously, but his manifesto launch lacked scale and ambition.

By Matthew West

It’s got to be tough being a Lib Dem. You spend all of your time trying to be taken seriously and having big ideas and everyone just talks about how you’re a bunch of sandal wearing, muesli eating hippies. It’s not really fair either but then life isn’t very fair to Lib Dems in general.

They seem to spend much of their time having their ideas nicked by the other two parties – the firing of MPs for being rubbish springs to mind – and the abuse that Nick Clegg receives each week in the House of Commons during prime minister’s questions illustrates perfectly the general disdain the Lib Dems are treated with by the bigger boys (and girls).

They’re like the little brother always trying to get the attention of his parents but being ignored because the other two are simply louder.

The Lib Dem desire to be taken seriously means there we weren’t subjected to the dulcet tones of Keane, or any other band at the launch of the party’s manifesto today – to the great relief, I suspect, of just about everyone in the room.

Nor did we have to undergo the parade of shadow spokespeople that made yesterday’s Conservative manifesto launch the interminable bore that it was.

That said, there were a few key personnel drafted in to provide the preamble to their leader’s speech.

Sarah Teather did her best to sound serious as she told us that Labour and the Tories launched their manifestos in an empty building. The Lib Dems were launching their manifesto in the Bloomberg building in central London: a building which was occupied with financial scrutiny just as the Lib Dems would be if they got into government. It was a good thing she decided not to stand behind the lectern however – she’d have been invisible.

Next came Danny Alexander who for some reason always reminds me of Beaker from the Muppets and looks just as scared every time he opens his mouth in public. Fortunately for everyone involved he was up, said his piece and was sat down again as quickly as his legs would carry him – instantly forgettable.

As was Vince Cable (unusually), who assured us he only had one thing to say and then went on and on about it for so long the only thing I remember him actually saying was that the economy was the elephant in the room that both Labour and the Conservatives were ignoring. “So I guess that makes me the Elephant Man” he said to mild titters, although some of us were probably thinking he was being a little hard on himself.

Then, mercifully, Nick Clegg strode onto the stage to muted applause. Was that because the Lid Dems wanted to be taken seriously or was it due to lack of numbers? One way or the other I couldn’t shift the thought from my mind that the launch lacked for scale and size. There was no whooping or cheering as Clegg arrived. It was, in fact, all a bit sombre. We didn’t get any short videos showing what the party was doing in local communities. He wasn’t flanked by voters who had been converted to the Lib Dem way of thinking or party members to show just how much support the Lib Dems had. Quite simply it lacked the glitz and glamour of the other two party’s manifesto launches. It lacked confidence. It lacked ambition.

And yet Nick Clegg’s desperate desire to be taken seriously is so strong you can feel it emanating from him. “If you’ve ever looked at the Liberal Democrats and thought: ‘they’ve got the right ideas but can they deliver’ your answer is here in this manifesto. We can and we will,” he said. You can’t and you won’t I thought. Not yet anyway. You’ll need to shout louder in order to do that and that’s not very Lib Dem at all.