Clegg conference speech 2011: Reactions

Prominent Liberal Democrats tell what they thought of Nick Clegg's speech.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander

"In a sense a big message of the speech was we've had to make some very difficult, challenging, tough decisions. And some of those have been difficult, both for the country and for us as a party, but we've made those decisions because they're the right thing to do in the interests of the country. That is the way we're approaching government."

Former MP Lembit Opik:

"What was missing and what was conspicuously absent was there wasn't a single mention to the localism agenda or community politics, which is the bedrock on which the party was built. And considering how important that has been to the president in terms of policy discussion here, really in terms of rebuilding the party and rebuilding the thousands of lost council seats we've endured in the last few years, I think that's a concern.

"I think it's important for the leadership to refocus their activity not on what's called the air war, but on the ground war. We can win the argument at our conference but we have to win hearts and minds on the doorsteps. That's what most people in this party came in to do. I think at a time when the membership has got real worries about where we're heading, a return to the proven methods of grassroots campaigning should be acknowledged by the leadership."

Deputy leader of the Lords Tom McNally:

"The only thing that surprised me was after four-and-a-half days of conference he was so vigorous and impassioned.

"It was a speech both for the conference and the country and touched the right buttons for both. I was delighted with it. I think a lot of people came to write our obituary. I think the conference will go away in really good spirit.

"You can't keep pulling the roots up to see if the plant's growing. We're 500 days into a five-year parliament. Let people judge us at the end of those five years. What's been said today sets us fair."

Parliamentary private secretary to Nick Clegg Norman Lamb:

"It was very much the sort of stuff I expected. The stuff on children and opportunity, the extent to which youngsters are trapped so much by entrenched disadvantage and how he's got so impassioned to tackle that, I think was very powerful because I know he believes in it. I think the rather admirable thing is he's had all the advantage, the privilege, and he thinks it's wrong.

"I think the party's been staggeringly mature through hall of this. It's stepped up to the plate. It could have been crushed – he could have been crushed very easily. A lesser person would have been destroyed by what he's been through but he's carried it with a very good grace, he's always demonstrated grace under fire. I think it's very impressive."

Local government minister Andrew Stunnell:

"I thought it showed a mood change. I thought he really captured the mood of the conference – the move from opposition to recognition of our power and influence in government. I thought he made that point very strongly and the enduring values of the party, no longer just slogans in opposition but actually being delivered in government and on the ground, made a real impact.

"It used to be said that nobody joined the Liberal Democrats for a political career. Joining the Liberal Democrats is an act of faith and an act of commitment to a set of values. And I think what Nick conveyed very strongly was that commitment and those values do go over into government and are still relevant in the way that this party takes decisions in government."

Culture backbench policy committee co-chair Don Foster:

"I think he said thank you to the party far more than I expected, which I think was absolutely right and great that he did. Because it has been a tough time for the party and he was clearly very sincere.

"He also was extremely articulate in saying why even in difficult times some of the long-term issues have to be addressed now – whether on the green issue, education and opportunity, equal opportunities and so on. Both of those, in a speech where he needs in the eyes of some people to regain his popularity to talk about long-term issues, I think was also a surprise, but very welcome.

"I think he's optimistic for the party. I'm optimistic for the party. I don't think there was anything in it other than it's going to be a long tough road, but not one in which we're going to fall apart. Because the point at the beginning of the speech about how strong we've been is probably the counter to that."

Co-chair of the international affairs backbench policy committee Martin Horwood:

"I was surprised by quite how honestly Nick accepted we had made a real mess of the whole tuition fees episode. I thought that was quite brave and very honest. I was also surprised by how angry he was, and passionate. This was a side we haven't always seen in the past. This wasn't the technocratic politician, this was someone with real fire in his belly and I think it really inspired the hall.

"Sacrifices have been made, many by councillors who have lost their seats. He was accepting that it's hard out there and it's better to accept that honestly than to pretend that it's not happening – but then to put a very positive message behind it as well."

Federal executive committee member Qassim Afzal:

"I think he moved forward in a positive sense. What was very clear was when he said 'we're not in anybody's pocket'. It was bold. I didn't expect him to be so clear with that.

"It was a speech that I think is absolutely right for now and the future. We've got to move on."

Party activist from Solihull and Meriden Lionel King:

"I'm not given to superlatives, but I've been coming to conference for 50 years now and I think that was the most relevant speech given by one of our leaders in all that time. I think he captured the mood of the times we live in. There was no propaganda in it or yah-boo politics. He was stating quite clearly that the party has got a very grave responsibility as part of a nation-saving administration, really."