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The Sketch: Cheers for a leader who started to sound leaderly

  • @SimonSketch

It's been by far the best conference in the conference season so far. And it could easily have been the opposite. No self-dramatising security, very few commercial exhibitors, a puritan-ethic stage set, and an entirely successful launch of the new Clegg Dancing Team.

They're all very high quality for a third party. The gloomy and authoritative financial one, the smooth and serious home fellow, the grave and poised education character. And between them they pulled off a seamless transition from the highest taxing party to the lowest. The membership cheered. They may not be when they find out who their bedfellows are (people much more like me than them).

The leader's speech went over as well as the leader might have hoped. The best line was nearly the last, delivered with great conviction if for no other reason than many are convinced it's true: "Labour is finished. It's over." Great, excited applause. He gave us quite a stinging attack on the Tories. I was stung and I'm not even a Tory. David Cameron's "condescending, born-to-rule arrogance" was referred to (I haven't noticed that myself). And Clegg added a clause to the Protocols of the Elders of Eton. In "absolute honesty" Cameron's social policy was: "If you're overweight, vulnerable or poor, you're on your own". I don't think Cameron puts it quite like that himself.

Clegg told us that what was needed was "big ideas". Luckily he had some that he'd prepared earlier. The biggest idea was that everyone should pay their fair share of tax. The smallest idea was "a person-sized health service". It better not be shaped like me or it'll need extra large pants and a new liver. Government is also to be "people-sized" (Hazel Blears or Cyril Smith?) and the benefit system is to be "people-shaped". But the matter doesn't matter; the manner matters. And Clegg's manner was leaderly. He's pulled it off. Maybe he'll be able to put it back on again later. But if his low-tax pitch works in the polls, Gordon will be put to an entirely new level of dither. That would be a great achievement in one so young.