LIB DEMS IN GLASGOW: Five little words that say it's time to go to sleep

EDWARD PEARCE'S NOTEBOOK
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"And Shirley Williams, I am proud to say, has been an adviser to the Women's Conference in Beijing."

Lindsay Crenshaw's sentence contained at least five killer words: "Beijing", "Conference", "Women", "Williams" and "Shirley", and it set the tone for conference's last morning in outer-orbital Glasgow.

Most of this was devoted to the sort of debate which has all the cut and thrust of a Magnificat. Subject: the party's interim manifesto, "The Liberal Democratic Guarantee".

This document has been laid out in a lurid version of party colours and looks like a salad of raw, sliced mango. The programme announces how much of the earth will be redistributed at the upright, fearless price of a penny on standard rate.

So delegate followed delegate either to drop a pinch of incense at the shrine of party wisdom, or in the way of Japanese management techniques, to beat up an effigy of the foreman - in this case, Tony Blair.

When it was all over, the chairman, Alan Sherwell, conceded the document had been debated at the rate of six minutes per word. And what words.

"I'm here" said Richard Coxon, "to tell you about all the exciting things we've been campaigning about in Edinburgh!"

The secret of being not any old bore but the sort who could make the championship eliminators, is always to be as excited about something as in telling everybody about it.

Susan Jennet was in contention, invoking "the need to green a little", "our children and grandchildren", "vision and the need to walk towards that vision".

Of course they are not all like this. You would as soon find Chris Davies, victor of Littleborough and Saddleworth, talking about visions and dreaming a little, as sharing confidences with Peter Mandelson.

Mr Davies has an arresting face. Saturnine and thin, with a neat clip- on smile, he has the look of a more socially aware John Redwood with just a hint of the young Jeremy Thorpe.

His neat jokey style was matched by Suzanne Gill, a bright young lawyer who topically urged the party to "flaunt our policies like Bet Lynch earrings". The sharp acts glitter among the dross like sequins in diesel oil.

But the curse of these oration festivals is incoherence. And Rose Colley did incoherence the way Rory Bremner does voices. Odd, for Ms Colley's reputation is that of chief tricoteuse on a committee in Southwark, south London, said to keep the local MP, Simon Hughes, stiff with anxiety as it supervises his political alrightness.

But in debate she sounds like melted lard: "What this document does, is ... it's a document which gives people hope ... So that through our people, we will have a good and prosperous future ..."

Then there was Ricky Younger-Ross who, like a busy stretch of the M4, should be avoided. He announced he had been inspired in youth by John F Kennedy and the Beatles, and later by Mill, Hobhouse, Beveridge and Keynes; now he had a dream of a better world.

It was left to Jim Wallace MP to speak up for succinctness. He boiled down Paddy Ashdown's three-volume postcard to Tony Blair into street-Glasgow:

"Hey Tony,

Didya think we come doon the Clyde on a watter biscuit?"

An example to us all!

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