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Michael Foster, Cliff Richard, and the Party Conference season!

March 5, 2008

It was remiss of me not to wish our MP Michael Foster a happy birthday in my column for the Observer last week. 62 years young. He’s the Cliff Richard of Hastings’ political life. Happy birthday Michael!

Last week also saw the beginning of the Party Conference season, with the Labour Party in Birmingham for the first time.

There can’t have been many delegates that have come back from Birmingham with a spring in their step and a song in their heart. But I can imagine our New Labour Michael being one of them.

Knowing that the song wouldn’t be ‘The Red Flag’, I started to wonder if it might be a Cliff number – what about ‘Blue turns to grey’ (a reminder of Gordon at the podium?); or ‘Can’t take the hurt any more’; or (sorry) ‘Great Balls of fire’; ‘I wish we’d all been ready’ (for a November election); or maybe, ‘The golden days are over’…

I was crying with laughter at the possibilities by the end of my scroll through the Cliff lyrics website that I found via Google. Sad, I know. I think it’s the sleep-deprivation of new parenthood.

In truth, I’m not sure if Michael went to the Labour Conference just gone, but it must have been a very strange affair for the delegates. There must have been a pretty surreal quality about it. Gordon with his now mandatory Conservative-blue background, churning out the same old phrases. Bold phrases rendered meaningless by repetition – like new money announced three times over!

Phrases like, “This is the New Labour promise of opportunity and security, not just for some but for all”.

Phrases like, “Neighbourhood policing for every family in every community, three million more homes and a safer environment, managed migration with a new points system, an NHS with better access to your GP, clean hospitals and the right to check-ups and screening”.

All these promises – good things in themselves, but now sounding as hollow as the trust that the British people has in the Labour Government itself.

The Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, has said that politics in Britain is broken (and surprise surprise, a few days later, one Davey Cameron has latched on to the phrase). It is broken not just because of the arcane system by which we elect our politicians, but because trust in politicians’ promises has been eroded further than ever before.

Gordon Brown’s rhetoric is tired. New Labour in government is tired. And the country is gradually tiring of them.

By contrast, this week the Liberal Democrats will welcome Nick Clegg to his first conference as Leader of our party. We are in good spirits locally and nationally. We have a combination of energy, ideas and experience that is beginning to convince people that the Liberal Democrats are worth taking seriously.

And if I were a Cliff fan, which I’m not, I think I’d be humming ‘Hope set high’ on my way to Liverpool on Thursday.

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