Lib Dem Conference: The Sketch; A funny thing must have happened on the way to the stage

CHARLES KENNEDY had obviously decided to keep the hall waiting. Baroness Maddock announced his name with the familiar upward trill of fanfare and delegates erupted into applause. Which gradually turned into puzzled applause... which slowly turned to worried applause. Where was he? Had he changed his mind? Were party officials even now trying to pry his fingers off the push-bar on the emergency exit? The applause began to falter, until delegates realised that silence was scarcely an option. They would clap until nightfall, if necessary, until Mr Kennedy had been coaxed down off the slates of the Majestic Hotel and persuaded that even the leader of the Liberal Democrats can lead a useful and fulfilling life.

But then Mr Kennedy sauntered on, as if he'd just been called aside from another conversation to say hello to an old friend. The printed text of his address had opened with the dubious assertion that "the leadership election was a unifying experience" for the party. Obviously all party leaders must at some point demonstrate their ability to wedge an oversized pork-pie into their mouths and then smile for the cameras, all without showing any outward signs of distress (or any tell-tale glimpses of pie- crust). But Mr Kennedy had clearly decided that it was unwise to tackle this challenge in his very first sentence.

Better to work up to it, as more experienced party-leaders do, with a few self-deprecating jokes ("Well, have I got news for you") and a bit of friendly banter: "This is for me a unique audience," he said, voice thick with mock gravity, "I have never addressed... so many potential members of the House of Lords."

Mr Kennedy's speech had a lot of sentences. Short sentences. Passionate and decent sentences. It had jokes too and quite smart ones at times. But it did not have a clearly discernible plot and he didn't cover that lack with his voice, pulling his listeners steadily upwards to a final capping peroration which would send them out thrilled and a little vertiginous at the height they'd been lead to.

He is good at treating the audience as intimates, far less practised at treating them as a crowd, a mass to be swayed as one.

He got his standing ovation, naturally. But as delegates murmured "good" to each other as they filed from the hall, there was an interrogatory lilt to the word, which told you they were checking, not asserting. "Good?" may be good enough for the moment - but Mr Kennedy will have to do better if he wants to excite his party, rather than just impress it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor