No sunny days ahead as Clegg makes case as moderator

Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam Gonzales Durantez arrive at the Brighton Centre ahead of his speech at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference. Photo: PA Wire

It was not his best speech. And he didn’t promise his party very many sunny days ahead.

But the central theme of Nick Clegg's speech, which has just closed the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, was that he and his colleagues are the moderators in a government dominated by Conservatives.

It is the Lib Dems who will hold their feet to the fire on the environment; the Lib Dems who will insist the top rate of tax does not fall below 45p in this Parliament; the Lib Dems who will ensure pupils from the most disadvantaged homes will have extra resources at school.

And he tried to reassure delegates that "the vitriol and abuse from Right and Left" is actually a good thing. Because he claimed it means the Lib Dems are keeping the "Government anchored to the centre ground".

We are, he told the audience, not "the third party" but "one of three parties of government."

And here is the message you will hear again and again in the run up to the General Election in 2015: "Are you ready to trust Labour with your money again? And do you really think the Tories will make Britain fairer?"

And he said "if voters want a party of opposition … they have got plenty of options, but we are not one of them."

In other words, if you are harking after the party the Lib Dems used to be, then go vote for someone else.

Nick Clegg also revealed that the former party leader, Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, will chair the party's 2015 General Election team. That received a huge cheer in the hall but in my view slightly confused the message that the party is not looking back.

"Stop looking in the rear view mirror," he told the members, "as we journey from the party of opposition that we were, to the party of government we are becoming."

He has got two and a half years to make the argument stick with voters too.

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