I’d like to take this opportunity to put a few things straight. When I meet people around the country, it’s obvious that many of you have strong – and pretty mixed – reactions to my specially rehearsed very sad face, and its appearance behind conservative cabinet ministers during parliamentary set piece occasions.
Many of you tell me to “bugger off” and to “Take your black paint and don’t darken my door again” because at a time of real uncertainty, we put aside our political differences to get a few ministerial positions, some nice chauffeured cars, and the opportunity to make sure that the most ignorant man in Britain had the opportunity to be chancellor of the exchequer. But, I also meet people who are even more disappointed and more angry about seeing my special sad face when I’m on the front bench as Jeremy and George and David show the nation how to party.
To those people, I say this: Take solace because we’re shafted. We’re done. Finished. Nowhere. We’ve been virtually wiped out in Scotland. Not even pronouncing scone properly and taking a sensible position on pasties would win us back support. We didn’t mean to get into government. The whole plan was to promise things that we wouldn’t have to do. But that was a mistake. It was a pledge made with the best of intentions – to dupe gullible people in marginal constituences to think we were more left wing than Labour and to avoid frightening the middle class mums and dads of kids in the south of England, and to maximise our votes – but we shouldn’t have made a promise we weren’t absolutely sure we wouldn’t have to deliver.
I shouldn’t have committed to a policy that when broken would prove so expensive to our votes when there were no spare votes around. Not least when the most likely way we’d end up in Government was in coalition with Labour or the Conservatives, who wanted our votes and would make sure we were stitched up like a kipper during any coalition negotiation process. I know that we fought to get the best number of votes we could in those circumstances.
But I also realise that isn’t the point. There’s no easy way to say this: we said something in the manifesto believing we hadn’t a hope in hell of getting into government in any form, you believed it, and we didn’t stick to it deciding instead to thumb our nose at you shouting “nyer nyer nyer nyer na” – and for that I am sorry.
When you’ve made a mistake you should apologise. But more importantly – most important of all – you’ve got to use a special sad face and try to distract you by talking about something else to make you feel better while noticing my sad face. Something like scones. Or pasties. Or kittens. And that’s what we will do. I will never again make a pledge in a manifesto that I know we can’ tbe absolutely clear about how we can keep it. And to be fair to us given the polling there’s bugger all chance of our ever seeing the ministerial cars again so we can get back to promising the earth knowing full well that there’s no chance of having to keep that promise. Who knows perhaps in forty or fifty years your children or granchildren might have forgotten how I screwed up my party’s reputation this time?
I accept that won’t be enough for everyone. But I owe it to you to be up front about it and to start looking very very sad, so sad that if you stare at the screen for long enough you think that I might cry – a little tear from the corner of this eye. And I don’t believe that my sad face and failure to do just badly enough to ensure that I didn’t actually have to explain why I couldn’t implement the things I knew I and my party couldn’t implement should cast a shadow over everything else the Liberal Democrats are achieving in government. I mean I’ve got a nice office, a lovely chauffeur driven car, and a place in history as I can guarantee that when I die my obituary will appear in all the big newspapers as a former Cabinet minister and the man who led the third party to electoral oblivion.
When we’re wrong we hold our hands up. But when we’re right we hold our heads up too – and use our sad face to make you think that we felt bad about screwing you and your family day in day out in the most female unfriendly government since we had a woman Prime Minister. We were right to leave the comfort of opposition to get the nice offices and chauffeur driven cars of government.
That’s what my party believes in. That’s what I believe in. And, if we’ve lost your trust, my looking sad, no my looking very very sad, and ensuring that we perform so badly at elections that it really doesn’t matter what we promise in any future manifesto, is the way we can start to win your trust back.