The Sketch: Great Repeal Act? Start with the party's name

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The Independent Online

I've got a new name for the Liberal Democrats. What do you think of this: The Liberal Party. Do you like it? I love it. A liberal party called the Liberal Party. It's a bit risky, you'll say. "The Lib Dems" has the advantage of not meaning anything. You can fill it up with all sorts of values, even opposites like freedom and fairness. Say it to yourself a few times. "The Liberal Party" - it grows on you.

That nice young Nick Clegg made the best pitch for liberalism I've heard for a while (there hasn't been much competition). He mocked the Government's 3,000 new criminal offences. "It is illegal! To sell! A grey squirrel!"

He told us that wheat shippers have to carry on board a copy of the International Wheat Shipping Code. "No grey-squirrel-selling illegal-wheat-monger will be safe in Blair's Britain!" Yes, we laughed. Ditto at "Dave 'small C' Cameron".

He even has a memorable proposal: The Great Repeal Act. A list of unnecessary laws to be repealed. It's as bold as Alan Milburn who is proposing the same thing. Clegg also recalled William Hague's soundbites: "All rhetoric, no results!" and "We want our country back!" Nonetheless, he looked more obviously leaderlike than anyone except Ming Campbell. He does that whispering thing that very confident speakers are able to do. All in due course, no doubt.

At Reform's fringe meeting no one dared to say the unspeakable word (vouchers) but David Laws and Jeremy Browne made a confident defence of markets and choice. Both said it was important to abandon the 50p top rate of tax, for the symbolism, quite apart from the practical advantages.

Then Ming Campbell told us that symbolism was the enemy and that substance was the only criterion. He was being interviewed by The Guardian's Mike White, to make him look younger. It worked, rather. Though they obviously share the same barber. Or French polisher.

Ming looked and sounded perfectly up to his new job. He managed to get a word in (not the easiest thing, with Mike's questions). He had a nice phrase, "the logic of personal freedom", and denounced the idea of campaigning for a hung parliament. We know now, don't we, that this time last year, Gordon Brown was sounding out which Liberals might do what job in a coalition government? So these abrupt assertions must be interesting parts of Downing Street.

But will he win the 50p vote today? He's relaxed about it; but Charles I was relaxed on the scaffold. So let's hope Charlie Kennedy throws his weight behind the leadership. I think we can trust Charles, can't we? But to do what? PS - There's an ad on the side of the bus down here. A boy is saying: "I like to sit upstairs at the front! I pretend I'm the driver!" It's the Lib-Dem role model!

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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