The Sketch: Why Shirley Williams is less interesting than my hotel air conditioning

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The Independent Online

I was dozing on my lonely hotel bed yesterday, listening to the drowsy hum in the background when it changed pitch slightly. I found myself wondering why. Then it occurred to me: that's more than one thinks listening to Shirley Williams. This leader of her party in the Lords, this elderly founding member of the new force in politics is less interesting than my hotel air-conditioning unit.

I was dozing on my lonely hotel bed yesterday, listening to the drowsy hum in the background when it changed pitch slightly. I found myself wondering why. Then it occurred to me: that's more than one thinks listening to Shirley Williams. This leader of her party in the Lords, this elderly founding member of the new force in politics is less interesting than my hotel air-conditioning unit.

What a shock that gave me. You've probably never listened to her. You may have heard the sound of her lovely voice but you'd be very hard put to recall anything she's said. In some ways she's like a very pretty girl who's never had to develop her personality. The voice is so beautiful she's never had to find anything to say with it.

"First of all, what I think I want to say is . . ." she begins and eventually starts her long descent with the words: "before I come to my final point I would like to say two things which I think deserve actually some serious attention."

In between she may say: "If you can never dress yourself or have the money to travel, what a little increased income can do for you is to increase your range of choices."

Perhaps you've got a more pacific nature than I, but talk like that makes me want to tear my own head off and throw it at the speaker.

"Have you seen those signs in our parks and open spaces which say 'No Ball Games'? (Appreciative chuckles of recognition) Unless our children have opportunities to do games, yes and to do sports, our brightest kids are going into gangsterism."

Or into the middle-class version of the same: politics. Where the crimes are infinitely greater and the loot uncountable.

The floor debate on the pre-manifesto gave us further insight. It's only as the Liberal Democrats have grown up that we can see how childish they have become. Their policy and its presentation is professional, simple, popular and entirely babyish. Putting patients first. A fair deal for pensioners. Giving children a good start in life. And as Baroness Williams has said: "And what the HELL are we going to do about Iran?" Or, "How the HELL are young families going to pay their bills?"

Then there's the slogan "Freedom Fairness Trust". FFT. That's an acronym GPs use, like NFN (Normal for Norfolk). "Any fainting, fits or turns?" doctors ask and when you say "no" they write in your notes, "No FFT." It's a slogan a cutting-edge party would use: "Liberal Democrats: Fainting, Fits, Turns".

There they are, in the hands of the professionals. They've produced a slate of simple, popular statements and they at least show they are ready to play with the grown-ups. But I fear when they are treated as such by the rest of the political class, they will be taken to pieces.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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