The Sketch: Are they serious about power, or really just a joke?

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The Independent Online

"You seem to treat us as jokes," a Liberal lady said at the fringe meeting. "May I ask why?" That was an odd question to ask of Simon Hoggart. He is the Lifetime President of Her Majesty's Loyal Sketchwriters. But he was also chairman of his paper's fringe meeting so he visibly suppressed the first three answers that occurred to him.

Why don't we take Liberals more seriously, intelligent, cultivated people as they are? Alas, they are not, as Tony Blair used to say when modernising his party, "serious people". In Blair's lexicon, serious people are seriously interested in the fundamental political fact (power) and compose themselves in such a way as to acquire it. It's not very attractive, it's not likeable – but you have to acknowledge serious people and deal with them.

Serious people would be presenting us with a simple but perfectly proportioned philosophy and three general plans that spring from it, with the assurance and certainty that they would work. As voters we'd feel the grip of these ideas. We'd feel them gripping other voters.

They would have worked out Gordon Brown's weakness and be producing formulae, witticisms, factoids, lines-to-take all – of which would come back to the central Liberal proposition. But there is no proposition.

Nick Clegg is closest to it, for my money. But then, I haven't got any money. His ideas of liberty are what I like to doze on when I'm trying to sleep. There's also the "edgy, anti-establishment message" he talks about. That would be popular. But would theyreally dismantle the car recognition cameras?

And what happens to equality when liberty succeeds (the more you have of one the less you have of the other). How do you deal with failures and losers? None of this has been thought through. It's not laziness, it's a lack of seriousness. They don't really expect to be in government and deep down, they don't really want it.

PS: I overheard Chris Huhne being interviewed: "David Cameron is good at sound 'bites' but not good at sound 'plans'." It made me laugh anyway.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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