The Sketch: One thumb up for the party of clichéd caring

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The Independent Online

My septic thumb (part II). Yesterday, as we remember (much as we'd rather not), the side of my thumb was a hot, fat and throbbing yellow. Symbol of the Liberal Democrats, arf arf. Today it has partially burst, is both emitting and secreting poison, is a deep, bruised blue and has turned overnight into a symbol of the Tories. Boom boom! I hope the analogy isn't perfect or it may have to be amputated. Opposable thumbs are what allowed cavemen to fasten stiff collars and thus brought humanity out of the Stone Age.

My septic thumb (part II). Yesterday, as we remember (much as we'd rather not), the side of my thumb was a hot, fat and throbbing yellow. Symbol of the Liberal Democrats, arf arf. Today it has partially burst, is both emitting and secreting poison, is a deep, bruised blue and has turned overnight into a symbol of the Tories. Boom boom! I hope the analogy isn't perfect or it may have to be amputated. Opposable thumbs are what allowed cavemen to fasten stiff collars and thus brought humanity out of the Stone Age.

But you want to hear about Charlie Kennedy's conference closing speech. I can't think what relevance that last sentence had. On we go, even so. Mr Kennedy's speech took all the words that all the focus groups are throwing out and he assembled them into a speech. Michael Howard will do the same. He may use a different order for the verbal units. Tony Blair ... well, he will surprise us, as he always does at conference time.

So Mr Kennedy went on - at inexcusable length - for just under the hour. Freedom, fairness, parents, he went. Students. Putting patients first. Our values. Our instinctively liberal values. Listening values. Crime. Communities. No tuition fees. Senseless vandalism. Command and control from London. Caring for children in their early years. More police, more streets, more pensioners, more pensions. Less waste, less unfairness. The food chain. Climate change. No more bogus false choices but real choice, quality choice based on freedom and fairness. Trust, too. No economic envy, more social equity. Vote for me.

None of this has been thought through. Local doctors making local decisions because local people know best. That is what he says he'll deliver. But who is responsible for rationing the cash that pays for it - that's never referred to. This localism is very corrosive of community, I suspect. Empowering local people was tried extensively in Kosovo and it didn't go at all well.

Having said that, Charlie's whisky-washed tweed voice is the nicest of all the leaders. He has a grab bag of knee-jerk, short-term, policies that should appeal to the lowest common denominator (I mean that in a good way). And his party looks a lot more like the electorate than the Tories (that, on the other hand, is not meant in such a good way). All in all, he is well placed to become the nagging wife on our virile prime minister's back.

My septic thumb (part III). I was sitting on a box in the aisle with a roll of tissue hiding the disgusting mess underneath when a lady approached me. Of course, I scowled horribly, so she wouldn't tell me I was a health and safety hazard and had to move. "Have you hurt your thumb?" she asked, "I couldn't help noticing you might need a plaster." She produced a variety of plasters and neatly bound up the mess. I couldn't help thinking that this would only have happened at a Lib Dem conference.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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