Andy McSmith's Lib Dem Conference Diary: Which ‘Cleggie’ will be a contender to carry on the legacy?


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Indy Politics

One way for a politician to show he’s a little bit like the rest of us is to refer knowingly to the sort of comedy that makes us laugh. To that end, Nick Clegg’s conference speech dragged in Al Murray, creator of the Pub Landlord, a character with a head full of ghastly opinions. The Deputy PM said he enjoyed a joke that Murray cracked at a pro-union rally in Trafalgar Square that “there’s something wonderfully vague about being British – that’s why we call it Brit-ish”.

What Clegg overlooked is that Murray put heart and soul into his creation and was not going to sit idly by as it was hijacked. He at once took to Twitter to declare: “Attention world’s media: this Clegg business has nothing to do with me.” A later tweet, addressed to Clegg, said the Pub Landlord does not like paying parking fines and “wants to bring back hanging, if only for the sake of the rope industry”.

Last orders...

Nick Clegg has delivered what is likely to be his last conference speech as both Deputy PM and Lib Dem leader. He is relatively young, has a family, a high-earning wife and has endured torrential ridicule since he agreed to go into coalition with the Tories. If the Lib Dems do as badly in next year’s election as the polls suggest, there will be no reason for him to stay.

The person most likely to carry on the Clegg legacy – the one we might call the party’s favourite “Cleggie” – is the care minister Norman Lamb, who said recently that he does not think Ed Miliband is a credible PM and has warned against coalition with Labour. But he would be running in a field clogged with Cleggies, assuming that Danny Alexander and Ed Davey also run. And, as I wrote yesterday, if the ambitious Jo Swinson can hold her seat, she could also be a formidable contender. My guess is the party will want a leader as different as possible from the old one. Put your money on Tim Farron or Swinson.

Closing time...

As the final day of the conference began at 9am, the vast hall (capacity thousands) held an audience of about 30. The excitement is wearing off.

The morning after...

It was kind of the Lib Dem press officers to provide the hacks with free Alka-Seltzer and anti-ageing cream on the final morning. How well they know us.

Where next?

A big-selling item at the stall in Glasgow for Lib Dem paraphernalia was the blue and yellow “dead parrot”. That it was so popular is an indication that most conference delegates are old enough to remember the speech that Margaret Thatcher delivered to a Tory conference 24 years ago this month, in which she likened the Lib Dems’ orange bird to the deceased parrot from that Monty Python sketch. Later that month, the “dead parrot” revived to score a sensational win at the Eastbourne by-election.