Nick Clegg: More than Cameron in a yellow tie

Nick Clegg: More than Cameron in a yellow tie. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

There will be a change of tone from Nick Clegg this afternoon when he delivers his speech which will close this Liberal Democrat conference.

A conference which has, by and large, been very successful - especially for Mr Clegg himself.

He will, for the first time since the election, be able to make a conference speech which throws ahead to the next election.

In previous ones he has been forced to simply justify the party's position in the coalition - on tax and on spending cuts in the face of a stubbornly resistant downturn.

It has taken more than three years, but you finally get the sense that the Liberal Democrats have comes to terms with being a party of government - rather than a party of protest.

It's a point Mr Clegg will make in his speech: "This recovery wouldn't be happening without us ... we are a party of government now ... the absolute worst thing to do would be to give the keys to Number 10 to a single party Government."

But governing parties get a tougher ride.

The mood here has lifted and Mr Clegg has won all the battles he staged with his party. Credit: David Cheskin/PA Wire

And the smaller party in any coalition government usually gets the hardest ride of all.

But the mood here has lifted and Mr Clegg has won all the battles he staged with his party (nuclear power, Trident, tax, spending).

Outside the hall though, the polls remain stubbornly low.

Most of them have the Lib Dems behind UKIP. The party is often on just 8 or 9%. Mr Clegg's approval ratings remain stuck firmly in negative territory.

So why the positive mood here?

Activists sense they can't fall any further, that the hard decisions are mostly behind them, and that they are actually having an effect in the coalition - most clearly explained by the announcement, released yesterday, of free school meals for all 4 to 7-year-olds.

They approve of the new approach of publicly disclosing their rows with the Conservatives, of pointing out more clearly than before how the two parties differ.

Mr Clegg has also sought to put himself in the best possible position in the event of another hung Parliament - which remains the most likely outcome of the 2015 election.

His party may instinctively prefer a coalition with Labour. Voters suggest they would rather one with the Conservatives.

But above all else here, Nick Clegg has succeeded in showing he is not just David Cameron in a yellow tie.