“You’ve dropped some paper!” A shout came from behind me as I was wandered dazedly around the labyrinth that is Glasgow’s SECC, where this year’s Autumn Lib Dem conference is being held. I turned round to discover that is was no less a person than former Lib Dem leader Lord Paddy Ashdown who was calling out. And I had dropped accidentally dropped one of the many handouts that conference goers pick up. This one on plain packaging for cigarettes; or Battersea Power station; or from retailers fearing the effect of a new law on minimum pack sizes of cigarettes.
As I picked up the offending litter, Paddy went on to ask his assistant loudly about whether he had to wear a suit for this evening’s rally. He duly turned up at the rally wearing a suit. But no tie. But then party leader Nick Clegg was tieless too, though the evening’s host, Orkney & Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael, wore one. Paddy was first of a series of speakers, but for me he stole the show. It wasn’t so much what he actually said. He invoked memories of truly inspiring leadership in days when the party was a much lesser force. More than that, Paddy is one of the few current politicians that really seems to get it when it comes to understanding the need for a radical decentralisation of power, though that did not enter into his speech tonight.
There is an irony in this. Paddy had a very imperial style of leadership when he was in charge. Some members complain that Mr Clegg ignores the party membership but that is as nothing to how Lord Ashdown was.
Nick Clegg’s speech was chiefly remarkable because he spent more time attacking the Conservatives than Labour. We are starting to get the hang of this coalition business. He also put in good word for public sector workers. He is trying to distance himself from that species of villain that people on the left like to call “neo-liberal”.
What else? There are a number of food vendors in the SECC, and yet I could find only one sandwich that did not contain ham, bacon, or cheese. I’m going to have to bring my lunch in if I want to keep the saturated fats down. And they wonder why life expectancy is so low here.