Luckless Liberals

It might have been better when no-one paid attention to their conferences after all. Apart from David Steel's memorable peroration in 1981 to "Go back to your constituencies....and prepare for government", followed by many years still out of government, few people commented on the deathless stage speeches of Lib Dem politicians. Now, in the full glare of publicity, they're coming under merciless scrutiny. Sarah Teather's humour-defying jokes have already been mentioned, and remain the stuff of Philip Cowley's re-tweeting. The largely anonymous Andrew Stunnell apparently tried a joke at the Guardian's expense which, er, failed. But the big-name fall guy today was Chris Huhne.

Having weathered the tawdry revelations of his driving and related offences, he is now climbing back into the mainstream. His speech today was meant to be clarion call against the evil Tories (a repetitively wearying theme at this conference) but came across somewhat passionlessly. What it did do, however, was provide Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman, in one of his less well-meaning moods, with the ammunition to provide a masterclass in interview harassment. Huhne had carelessly announced, in the anonymous, generalised way of rhetorical flourishes, that "we need no Tea Party tendency in Britain". Well, quite. But cue a series of Paxman questions along the lines of "Who are the Tea Party-ers?", "Name them", "Are they just Bill Cash and some friends?" I was half expecting the indefatigable Paxman to demand the names and addresses of everyone Huhne thought might be a secret Tea Party activist.

Huhne wasn't the only one whose image fared none too well. Party president Tim Farron has been on a bid for the leadership for some time. You can tell this by the way he keeps denying it. But is it just possible that his ever more vigorous denials are also the result of genuine pressure from Lib Dem colleagues to stop putting himself about? The Guardian blog today charted Farron's rapid move from saying that he wouldn't rule out replacing Clegg as leader this morning, to saying he would nail Clegg's feet to the floor to keep him as leader this afternoon. With that level of consistency Farron clearly has a bright future ahead of him (the future is still orange, right?).


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