Down in the plaza below the conference centre is the Galloping Horses Carousel. Up and down the gaudy horses go, round and round and back again to the same old music. There must be a sketch in there somewhere.
Into the Lib Dem conference. Every year for the last decade fewer and fewer people, less and less sponsorship, smaller and smaller audiences. On the backdrop: "A fresh start for Britain, choosing a better future". Rearrange those words into a political slogan: "I can't make them work at all."
Vince Cable came on. The most trusted politician in Britain, a recent poll had him. Veracity Vince. Go on, tell us the truth! Speak for England, Vincent! He told us the arrogant, cynical Tories were going to slash and burn public spending programs while spending an extra £53bn. That's quite a trick. Is it true? It's hard to know how it can be.
Tories want to control everything from Whitehall, he said. I thought nobody wanted that any more? Except Whitehall?
Tories, he said, are "pitifully ill-equipped, politically, morally and intellectually. By contrast, the Liberal Democrats..." Go on, finish that sentence. At least the Tories have been in government within living memory. One of them has been Minister for Wales.
It wasn't a bad speech, in its Galloping Carousel way. And there was a moment there where we almost sat up. Something about closing tax loopholes where he said, "It's got to be stopped!" And he made you think he might exert himself to do that... given the chance.
His list of what was wrong was right, certainly for Tories in the audience. Civil servants' bonuses. Constant public service pay rises. All those officials and quangos and agencies with their vast pensions while the rest of us have to slog on to 68. And state pensions below the poverty line. Trident. Bankers' bonuses. Tax loopholes. "It's got to be stopped!" And there was a sudden lift in his voice, a sense of purpose, a little flash of action and you thought veracious old Vince might do the business.
That is, he might make us believe he'd do something. He'd get out of the status quo, the mise-en-scène, the galloping carousel, and put himself into play. Because he's such a dull dog on the platform he has the potential to be a great demagogue. He wouldn't have to raise his voice much or change his tone a lot but suddenly he'd be Danger Man. If he promised to do things we'd actually believe him.
But in the end his painted horse just went round the back of the carousel. Not to worry, it'll be back soon enough.Reuse content