Lib Dem conference sketch: Clegg on song in grey Glasgow
By Charlotte Henry
Early on a Monday morning, in a labyrinthine hall in a greying Glasgow, Liberal Democrats came together to debate the future of the party's economic policy. That may not sound terribly appealing, but the hall was packed with all those that could find their way to the auditorium through the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre's maze of corridors.
The Lib Dems were ready to start putting some ink on the 2015 manifesto – and many on the left were gearing up for what they considered a fight for the party's core.
Steve Webb MP, Lib Dem in the Department for Work and Pensions started the debate. Webb is a big brain of the left of the Lib Dems, as David Laws is to the right. He is highly intellectual and has many serious points to bring a variety of debates. Today, instead, Webb brought the jokes. This included the old line that "Ed Balls has predicted six of the last three recessions". Whoever would have thought, from listening to this stand-up routine, that Webb is a professor of social policy?
Later in the debate came a certain "Tim Farron from Westmoreland and Londsdale". He bounded on to the stage to the defence of his leader. Never one to undersell, Tim claimed that the decision to go into coalition "may have damaged the party, but it saved the country". He was in full attack dog mode too, declaring that the he would "take no lectures from Labour" on being socially progressive.
While Vince Cable sulked, then skulked, TV crews in tow, Farron asked the crowd: "What would it be [like] if, just when those tough decisions are being vindicated, we lost our nerve?" He ultimately won the vote for the party leadership, and they know it. The bar tab is on the deputy prime minister's office tonight.
Back in the economy debate "Nick Clegg from Sheffield" was asked to standby to summate the discussion. When it was his turn, he thanked the party for the high level of debate, reiterated his points, and then got told off for running over his time by the chair.
No extra time allowed. It was only Nick from Sheffield, after all.
Cable, the party's self-appointed economic guru, had decided to stay away for much of the economic debate, although you could hardly keep him off the platform the rest of the day. He wafted in later, as all good gurus do, to cast his vote along with the party leadership on the economy, looking constantly pained. In his speech following the debate, he attacked his Tory Cabinet colleagues, and received a huge ovation from his disciples.
Later, the same Nick from Sheffield from earlier – he seemed to be getting a lot of time on the stage for some reason – re-emerged to conduct a question and answer session. Clegg walked around the stage, tie-free, as if he should have a guitar strapped over his shoulder. At points he even ventured rock 'n' roll style on to a small walkway at the front of the stage.
No catchy choruses at this gig though. Instead the repertoire of Lib Dem classics was revisited. Clegg was grilled on quite technical aspects of housing, benefits, and cycling, and there was a brief reprise of the earlier row over the economy.
When asked about the 'bedroom tax', Clegg said he agreed implementation of the "spare room subsidy" had to be carefully thought through and that he would "keep under review" how councils are implementing it. He received a round of applause for his response for this dance out of quite a tight spot.
Clegg was also applauded for his answer on immigration – and hit his stride when declaring that David Laws and Norman Baker will look at how to provide free transport to young people, and for attacking the Conservatives for trying to take claim the royalties on the Lib Dems income tax threshold plan.
It wasn't rock 'n' roll, but the audience liked it.
Clegg got a big encore to his gig, too. When asked by one angry activist: "How much of the Lib Dem manifesto should be independent, Lib Dem policy?” (as opposed to coalition policy, as some fear,) he sang out: "All of it."