1. The Lib Dems think they will be in power again after 2015
This whole conference was aimed at making that easy by encouraging activists to back grown-up policies rather than argue about goldfish. The Lib Dem leader placed great emphasis in his speech on his party’s ability to work with any party, arguing that it didn’t matter who he got on with better personally. As James writes, the Lib Dems had a good conference because they think there will be another hung parliament.
2. The Lib Dems believe in coalition more than they believe in anything else.
Clegg’s ‘this-is-who-I-am’ passages in his speech explained his frustration with two-party politics, not his convictions about the size of the state or anything specific. He wants to sell the Lib Dems not as the ‘party of work’ or the ‘party of the NHS’, or any other tag that Labour and the Tories might tussle over, but as the moderating force in government. There was a sense in his speech that he thinks his party can make any government better, like Lea & Perrins sauce is supposed to improve any dish. To that end, they seem to think that talking about all the times they’ve said ‘no’ is a good strategy
3. Vince Cable isn’t what he used to be.
Activists were hardly crying and stomping with gratitude when the Business Secretary delivered his speech this week. He’d already lost the economic argument in his party before turning up in Glasgow and having a sulky 12 hours where he refused to shut down speculation that he was deliberately snubbing the conference debate on the same subject. This means two things: one is that Clegg really needn’t worry about any leadership challenge from that quarter (and the DPM joked about that in his speech, mocking Lord Oakeshott for his party in plotting a Cable takeover).