Sunday, 19 April 2009

And in the yellow corner...

Picture the scene, a hall full of people (lets say 150 people - feel free to correct me), some music reminiscent of Rocky Balboa and a slideshow of Kirsty Williams doing her thing: Kirsty with some students, Kirsty at a hospital, Kirsty on the farm (you get the idea). The tension grows, which door will she emerge from?

To a rapturous reception the new leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats strides into the hall ready to deliver her first speech to the party faithful. If you didn’t already know, the introduction was making it painfully clear that the Lib Dems have a new leader and a new image. (So keen to impress this upon us there was an absence of a certain Mike German)

So with everyone ready, the room falls silent waiting for the messages to come - blow by blow. So what do we get, a new direction? Some new policies? Anything new? Something original?

Not so much, what we get is a speech that tells us “liberal principles are the answer to Wales' problems”. Now correct me if I’m wrong but haven’ t the Lib Dems been telling us this for a while now? So much for the new direction.

I may be over egging the pudding a little here but the point I’m trying to make is that throughout the weekend everyone was talking about Kirsty Williams' first conference, about her first speech. There was a feeling of a new direction, a new start for the party in Wales. Coupled with an introduction that was dramatically over the top, fireworks were expected. After all this, to then be told exactly the same thing that we have been told for the past however many years was a little anticlimactic.

The whole event felt a little staged, I wrote on my notepad that it was very “Eisteddfodol”, which some of you may understand. This feeling came from the dramatics at the start, the wooden pleasantries, the communications director giving signals from the back of the room and a tone of voice that was more akin to someone addressing a football stadium rather than a room of roughly 150 people. Now of course I know all these things are stage managed in microscopic detail but the trick is surely to try and make it feel real, honest and engaging.

Now to the content. One of the headlines from the speech was that the Lib Dems in Wales would lower taxes for middle and lower income families. This principle is all well and good but why spend time in your first speech to conference as leader to spell out a policy that the Assembly doesn’t have the power to implement? And surely everyone knows this already about the Lib Dems, so why spend so much time on it?

In saying this there was also some clear timely messages put forth by Kirsty Williams - help people not banks, time to move away from sleazy politics, time to believe in Liberalism in Wales, time for greater elected accountability.

I ask myself whether I was expecting too much? I also ask myself does a leopard change its spots? It seems to me that Kirsty Williams needs more than 4 months to forge a new direction, a new image and a new future for the party.


Dewi Un



Anonymous said...

Kirsty has always been a terrible public speaker - an unimpressive mix of eisteddfod cerdd dant recitation and student politics meeting. But in this day and age public speaking is much less important than media appearances. What’s more worrying for the Lib Dems in Wales is that they are bereft of ideas and direction. It’s clear that they cannot compete with Labour and Plaid for the centre and left of centre vote so can realistically only pick up support from disillusioned Tories (the natural base of their support in rural Wales if not in Cardiff or Swansea). But with the Tories reviving at UK level and the Lib Dems in Wales unwilling or unable to genuinely review their policies and relaunch their party, you could ask what is the point of the Lib Dems in Wales?

Peter Black said...

I see it did not take long for the Plaid Cymru trolls to comment. Kirsty is actually acknowledged as an excellent public speaker and a very good performer on TV. The need for liberalism may seem old hat to you but is is what distinguishes us from the other parties and will be reflected in our manifestos. It is a new direction for the party because previously we had been very managerialist in our approach and as a result had sunk into the grey morass inhabited by the other parties. The reason I came here however was to point out that the reason Kirsty talked about tax policy is that she is not just the leader of the party in the Welsh Assembly she is leader of the Welsh Party as a whole. That means that her brief encompasses Westminster issues.

Swansea Voter said...

the need for liberalism, for liberal ideas etc etc. Its all cliches and rhetoric. No substance to what that means.

Anton Howes said...

Swansea Voter,

This is what liberalism in Wales or indeed the UK means:

We're a new party in the UK (9 months old), and it just so happens that we've got a thriving branch in Swansea.

Pete Roberts said...

"half full hall" actually only about half a dozen unoccupied seats in middles or rows.

About 150 people - actually just over 200 I counted from the back I assume you couldn't see those on the balcony that added another dozen not those standing out into the coridore waiting (in vain) to come in.

As to anon far from being bereft of ideas this weekend saw the party adopt a number of clear new directions. A response to homophobic bullying in schools, a clear commitment to participate in a joint yes campaign (even if PC and Labour cant be bothered about our future) commitment to working to bring planning powers back to wales. Oh and condemnation of IWJ decision to sponsor one of the leading sports events in wales.

Hardly bereft but then we are a party who discuss policy at this level not ignore it

crewegwyn said...

The Party has recorded an increase in membership so far in '09 - suggesting some early progress under the new leader.