Why did Nick Clegg choose to give ‘his most personal speech so far’ at this year’s autumn conference? Ed Miliband, after all, has been giving these speeches for three years now, each apparently more personal than the last. And Clegg doesn’t really have any more compelling a story than anyone else in Westminster: like Miliband, his parents have a fascinating story to tell, but his own upbringing has been pretty standard for a politician.
But this conference was the first opportunity Clegg has really had to market himself because for a few years his reputation was so toxic in the country, and the decision he had taken to go into coalition such an emotional shock for his party that it was best to stick to the issues, not the man.
But this year the Lib Dem leader has firmly made his mark on the party. As James blogged earlier, the Liberal Democrats are Clegg’s party now. The votes that he won this week weren’t just convenient in terms of governing with a mandate from activists, they were also a stamp of Nick Clegg’s authority. They showed that he could ask his party to step up to the mark with the confidence that it would, rather than the risk of a bloody nose and a retreat.
The increased authority also meant Clegg could explain why he is a Liberal Democrat. He told the conference hall this afternoon that people ‘need to know who we are. Who I am. Why I’m a Liberal Democrat and why I’m standing here today’. He could have been talking about his party specifically: there have been low points when some of the left-wing members have asked why or indeed whether Clegg is a Lib Dem.