Clegg's speech: what he said – and what he meant

The Independent on Sunday's Chief Political Commentator dissects the Liberal Democrat leader's speech at the party's conference in Brighton

"We remembered what it takes to win again. Whether from Jess Ennis or Mo Farah, Sarah Storey or David Weir."

[The obligatory incantation of the sacred Olympic magic names, or a balanced selection thereof.]

"Our party: from the comforts of opposition to the hard realities of government. Our country: from the sacrifices of austerity to the rewards of shared prosperity. Two journeys linked; the success of each depending on the success of the other. Neither will be easy and neither will be quick, but it will be worth it. And be in no doubt. If we secure our country's future, we will secure our own."

[By the end of the passage, we had forgotten that "our own" referred to the Liberal Democrats' future, so it sounded odd. What he meant was that the Liberal Democrats would be rewarded by grateful voters if the economy comes good, but aren't the Conservatives more likely to get the credit?]

"There was an article praising my leadership in The Daily Telegraph. By Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. At least he's found one party leader he's prepared to endorse in public."

[We were told that some jokes were being added at the last moment, and this was one that was not in the pre-released text, hitting back at Boris's mocking "save Clegg" column.]

"The idea that if government just deregulated a bit more as Liam Fox proposes, or borrowed and spent a bit more as Ed Balls proposes, we would, at a stroke, achieve strong and lasting growth, is just not credible."

[The old Tony Blair third way device: find two unpalatable extremes and present yourself as sweet reason in the middle. Interesting that Balls is chosen as the Scylla of the Labour Party, and that Clegg did not mention Ed Miliband (or David Cameron) once.]

"We have taken big and bold steps to support demand and boost growth. And we stand ready to do so again and again and again until self-sustaining growth returns."

[You may not have noticed, but we are already trying to abandon George Osborne's plan A, and if it doesn't work we will do a bit more of it. Again and again and again.]

"At the last Budget, we made two big announcements: that we were spending three thousand million pounds increasing the tax-free allowance, and just fifty million pounds reducing the top rate of tax while recouping five times that amount in additional taxes on the wealthiest. I insisted on the first. I conceded the second … But let me make one thing clear: Now that we have brought the top rate of tax down to 45p – a level, let's not forget, that is still higher than throughout Labour's 13 years in office – there can be no question of reducing it further in this Parliament. All future cuts in personal taxation must pass one clear test: do they help people on low and middle incomes get by and get on? It's as simple as that."

[In future, but not in the past, when I "conceded".]

"How we do that – how we reshape the British state for the economic challenges of the 21st century – is a debate I want our party to lead. For there are only two ways of doing politics: by following opinion, to get yourself on the populist side of each issue, or by leading opinion, and standing on the future side of each issue. The first brings short-term rewards, of course it does. But the big prizes are for those with the courage and vision to get out in front, set the agenda and point the way."

[The Tony Blair Memorial Paragraph. No applause.]

"We will do whatever it takes to make sure your child is not left behind. A place in a summer school; catch-up classes; one-to-one tuition; we are providing the help they need. So yes, we're raising the bar. But we're ensuring every child can clear it too."

[Also, I am promising not to make any more undeliverable promises. So, yes: "ensuring" and "every child".]

"I see generations of Liberals marching towards the sound of gunfire. And yes, I see them going back to their constituencies to prepare for government. It took us a while but we got there in the end."

[So, they march towards the guns and then, when properly dead, they return to their constituencies and prepare for the next chance to break their promises? Or perhaps he meant something else.]

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