Nick Clegg conference speech as-it-happened

Ian Dunt By

109:18 - Morning. It's bleary-eyed early but we're getting the live blog cranked up to cover the build up to Nick Clegg's closing speech for the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.  I'll bring you news and analysis from the conference floor and highlight all the best bits of the web before covering the speech live. It technically starts at 14:30, but there's usually this dreadful fundraising event beforehand, where Tim Farron (Christian, leftie, possible future leader) gets the sandal-wearers to dump coins in a bucket to fund the third party's trip to electoral apocalypse. After the speech is done, we'll bring you comment, sketch, analysis, interviews - you name it.

09:54 - Here's our story on the speech, from the extracts released in advance by the Lib Dem press office.

09:56 - And I'll now paste the full extract below, in case you prefer reading it than my news story.

So let us take our example from the British people as together we embark on the journey ahead. Our party: from the comforts of opposition to the hard realities of government. Our country: from the sacrifices of austerity to the rewards of shared prosperity. Two journeys linked; the success of each depending on the success of the other. Neither will be easy. And neither will be quick. But it will be worth it. And be in no doubt. If we secure our country’s future, we will secure our own.

As we plot our path from austerity to prosperity, we need to remember that nothing we do will make a decisive difference if we don’t make the most important investment of all: in the education and training of our young people. For we will only fulfil our collective economic potential, if we fulfil our individual human potential.

Yet the legacy of decades of educational inequality in Britain is an economy operating at half power, with far too many young people never getting the qualifications they could get, never doing the jobs they could do, never earning the wages they could earn. The true cost of this cannot be counted in pounds and pence. Yes it’s a huge drag on our economy, but more than that, it is an affront to natural justice and to everything we Liberal Democrats stand for.

Because if you strip away all the outer layers to expose this party’s philosophical core, what do you find? An unshakeable belief in freedom. Not the tinny sound of the Libertarian’s freedom – still less the dead thud of the Socialist’s – but the rich sound of Liberal freedom,
amplified and sustained by the thing that gives it real meaning: opportunity. The freedom to be who you are. The opportunity to be who you could be. That, in essence, is the Liberal promise.

And that is why this party has always been – and must always be – the party of education. Because just as there can be no real freedom without opportunity, so there can be no real opportunity without education.

Every parent knows how it feels when you leave your child that first day at a new school. That last look they give you before the door closes behind them. The instinct to go with them, to protect them, to help them every step of the way. And that’s how we should feel about every child. That’s the responsibility we have to every parent. To support them at every stage: from nursery to primary, from primary to secondary and from secondary to college, university or work.

That’s why we’re providing more money so the poorest two-year -olds, as well as every three and four-year-old, can now benefit from pre-school education. Delivering our Pupil Premium – £900 per child next year – so the most disadvantaged children get the more intensive, more personalised support they need. And why, when they leave school, we’re providing scholarships, bursaries, grants, loans, apprenticeships and wage subsidies, to help them go on learning or start earning.

But extra resources won’t make a difference unless matched by greater ambition. Which is why money must be accompanied by reform. Reform to ensure every child can read and write; to make schools focus on the performance of every child; to turn around failing schools, and put more pressure on coasting schools. And yes, reform to replace GCSEs, not with an O Level, but with a new more rigorous, more credible qualification that virtually every child will be able to take, and every well taught child will be able to pass.

And to ensure they do, I can announce that from this year, we will provide a new ‘catch-up premium’ – an additional £500 for every child who leaves primary school below the expected level in English or maths.

If you’re a parent whose child has fallen behind; who fears they might get lost in that daunting leap from primary to secondary school; and who is worried by talk about making exams tougher, let me reassure you: we will do whatever it takes to make sure your child is not left behind. A place in a summer school; catch-up classes; one-to-one tuition; we are providing the help they need. So yes, we’re raising the bar. But we’re ensuring every child can clear it too.

I am proud of the resolve we Liberal Democrats have shown over the last two and a half years. We’ve had some real disappointments: tough election results; a bruising referendum. But throughout it all, we have remained focused, determined, disciplined. It hasn’t always been easy, and, when we’ve made mistakes, we’ve put our hands up. But we’ve stuck to our task – and to the Coalition Agreement – even as others have wavered.

The received wisdom, prior to the election, was that we wouldn’t be capable of making the transition from Opposition to Government. The choices would be too sharp, the decisions too hard. The Liberal Democrats, it was said, are a party of protest, not power.

Well two years on, the critics have been confounded. Our mettle has been tested in the toughest of circumstances, and we haven’t been found wanting. We have taken the difficult decisions to reduce the deficit by a quarter and have laid the foundations for a stronger, more balanced economy capable of delivering real and lasting growth. But conference, our task is far from complete, our party’s journey far from over.

I know that there are some in the party – some in this hall even – who, faced with several more years of spending restraint, would rather turn back than press on. Break our deal with the Conservatives, give up on the Coalition, and present ourselves to the electorate in 2015 as a party unchanged. It’s an alluring prospect in some ways. Gone would be the difficult choices, the hard decisions, the necessary compromises. And gone too would be the vitriol and abuse, from Right and Left, as we work every day to keep this Government anchored in the centre ground.

But conference, I tell you this. The choice between the party we were, and the party we are becoming, is a false one. The past is gone and it isn’t coming back. If voters want a party of opposition – a “stop the world I want to get off” party – they’ve got plenty of options, but we are not one of them. There’s a better, more meaningful future waiting for us. Not as the third party, but as one of three parties of government.

10:26 - Clegg will consider the conference a success, not because anything in particular happened, but because it didn't. Gathered journalists have all been complaining about how boring it is. That's music to a politician's ear. Boredom for hacks is victory for politicians. Whatever else, it's clear the party is not ready for a leadership struggle. The time for that, in all probability, is next year. Any new leader would want at least a year and a half to sell a new message to the electorate before the general election. But in truth, the galvanising force will come from MPs plotting in Westminster, well away from conference. These are the people who face losing their seats. When people talk of a small percentage increase under Vince Cable - for these guys that's their job. They have the motivation. My guess is that there can be no real movement until George Osborne's second spending review. The Lib Dems need to support that or else the government falls. They can't turn left and then support it, so any major change will have to come afterwards.

10:37 - Interesting thing to rebel on. The conference just overwhelmingly voted to support emergency motion against the government's new planning measures. That could be very embarrassing for Clegg, who joint-launched it with David Cameron as part of the coalition's latest reboot.

11:17 - My colleague Alex Stevenson has been talking to a lot of Lib Dems. Here's his piece on their strange, unfussy resilience in the face of electoral doom. Do give it a read, it's really insightful.

11:18 - It's just been pointed out to me that Lib Dems have so far voted for more house building but against loosening planning regulations. Slow hand clap

11:32 - Ok, let's put together a lunchtime reading list. First of all and in prime place is John Harris from the Guardian doing a six minute video from the conference. It is very, very funny.

11:36 - Clegg's wife, Miriam, is the subject of a few press reports today after she gave a rare interview to the Evening Standard. It's all very sensible, well-thought out stuff on womanhood and being mother/wife of a senior politico. By far the best account is in the Daily Mail which pointedly refers to her as Miriam Clegg, despite noting that she "goes by her maiden name of Miriam Gonzalez Durantez". You've got to love the Mail. Apropos of nothing, I was once stood behind Clegg and his missus during a 'meet the press' thing at a Lib Dem conference a few years back. I noticed that throughout the evening, which neither of them seemed to enjoy, he lightly stroked the her back. It's a tiny thing, but it was a genuine bit of sentiment in a place where strategy conquers all. It also felt - gulp - a million miles away from Sam Cam & Dave, whose entire relationship appears to be a photo op.

11:52 - Donald Macintyre recently took over as sketch writer for the Independent. I thought it was a shame - Simon Car, his predecessor, was profoundly logical, deadpan and principled - but his his pieces from thre Lib Dem conference have been fun. Today's, on the party's utter disinterest in foreign affairs, is funny but has something to say. 

12:03 - Over at the Telegraph, Mary Riddell thinks Clegg's best option is to veer left towards Labour. She has considerable sympathy for the DPM and some belief in his abilities, too. "Although it is almost impossible to see him surviving after 2015, it is increasingly unlikely – though not unthinkable – that he will go before," she writes. "Mr Cable's ever louder hints of his availability may be proof in themselves that the leader is not for budging. Friends say that he has become 'ruthless' in office."

12:05 - Gary Gibbon at Channel 4 says Clegg's been chatting with Tony Blair, David Miliband and Peter Mandelson about the eurocrisis. Apparently events in Europe obsess him in private. 

12:24 - Liberal Democrat communities minister Don Foster is giving the distinct impression of ignoring that anti-planning reform vote. Here's his statement: "Liberal Democrats have long campaigned to make planning more responsive to local demands and concerns. That is why we have reversed Labour's unworkable top-down, centralised planning system and appalling lack of house building to tackle the chronic housing shortage. The planning regulations proposals are accompanied by an extra £300m to ensure a significant increase in social housing. The increase in building will be a significant boost to the local economy. We are now consulting on how the planning regulations will work in practice and we will be listening to the views expressed today by conference, which will form an important part of this process." Mmm.

12:56 - Here's a link to Jo Swinson's conference speech.

13:45 - I've been chatting with Standard writer Rosamund Urwin, who wrote the Miriam interview, on Twitter. The Mail, as is its habit, covered it without mentioning the original source. So here's a link, in case you want to read the full interview.

13:47 - Andrew Sparrow, at the Guardian is always worth reading. He's done a list of Ten Things We Learned at the Liberal Democrat Conference which is worth reading. When you're done, come back here. I demand monogamy from live blog readers, no flirting with the Grauniad. They don't love you like I do.

14:41 - Well, I've had a read of Clegg's conference speech. There are three bits of news, one of them relatively major. I can't say I think much of the rest of it, but perhaps it'll sound better when he delivers it. I don't consider that very likely either, but it's always possible. When political journalists sit down in their bit of the room for these things, they tend to grab for the printed copies, which are usually still hot from the printer. I never understood that. They want to see where he goes off script, but I always thought there was more to learn by watching the performance. These events are 80% theatre, 20% content. However, if you're like most political journalists, you might want to read along so I'll link to the speech as soon as the clock hits 15:00, when the embargo ends.

14:46 - Tim Farron is doing the awards/charity bit to a packed hall. Although not that packed. Our correspondent, Alex Stevenson, said he saw quite a few senior political journalists leaving the conference station for the trains at lunchtime. 

14:51 - I'd tell you what's going on in this Farron event, but that would just inflict the misery on you as well. If you are alone, in extraordinary pain, you are having a better time than I am watching this.

14:55 - He's now reliving his previous conference experiences in Brighton. Farron is actually one of the most likable, personable politicians out there, but the event is so cheap it's like you can see the sellotape. 

14:57 - Ok, that was quite funny. Farron joked about Dr Evan Harris (former Lib Dem MP) being on a Channel 4 programme in which he will take ecstasy. "Evan Harris found a reasonably priced dealer in Hove," he said. Yes, I know. It's not Bill Hicks, but you'll take what you can.

15:02 - Farron passes over to the party treasurer. Not long now.

15:07 - Here's Clegg's speech in full.

15:08 - Here are the three bits of news in the speech, as I mentioned earlier: 1) Lib Dems won't sign up to Osborne's spending plans for next parliament 2) Clegg promises no further reduction to top rate of income tax for duration of this parliament. 3) Paddy Ashdown returns to  chair 2015 general election team

15:10 - Clegg is being delayed by the charity bit. I love the way they get people to come round with buckets before the leader's speech. If they had a bit of faith in his inspirational qualities they would surely do it afterwards.

15:13 - Clegg hasn't even started talking yet and already the Treasury are responding to the income tax news. "Treasury 'relaxed' about Clegg's announcement 45p rate will stay till 2015," James Chapman of the Mail writes. "'Safe to say cutting 45p isn't George's priority,' says source."

15:15 - Oh sweet Christ, it's the opening video show. Clegg is pointing at things because pointing at things is MANLY AND ALPHA.

15:16 - And he's on. Occupying a tiny space in the centre of the room. Already the hands are wagging frantically, utterly without meaning.

15:18 - Clegg starts by celebrating the Olympics (won't be the first time we hear that this conference season), saying it showed Britain remembering what it was like to win again. He compares it with the riots. The elderly man whose furniture shop was burned down is in the audience. Clegg highlights his presence.

15:19 - If you're into this sort of thing, Clegg is wearing a purple tie. 

15:21 - He really is very close to the audience. As he talks about two journey's linked (something about the deficit) he puts his fingers together. "If we secure our country's future we will secure our own," he says, strongly. Robust round of applause. He goes off script to mock David Cameron, saying Boris wrote nice things about him in the Telegraph. "At least he's found one party leader he's prepared to endorse in public".

15:23 - He didn't look like he enjoyed delivering that joke, which was somewhat shoehorned in. he wore a slightly pained, forced expression as he delivered it.

15:25 - Clegg is very forceful and accomplished during a section on deficit reduction and the poor. Here's the text, which is worth reading carefully, because it attempts to pain spending cuts as left-wing. "So to those who ask, incredulously, what we – the Liberal Democrats – are doing cutting public spending, I simply say this: Who suffers most when governments go bust? When they can no longer pay salaries, benefits and pensions? Not the bankers and the hedge fund managers, that’s for sure. No, it would be the poor, the old, the infirm; those with the least to fall back on." he then moved on to attack Labour - particularly that letter from Liam Byrne to David Laws saying "there's no money left".

15:26 - The speech is not great, but his delivery is much better. I remember before government he would make a damp squib out of well-written speeches. Now the speeches are worse, but his delivery is more confident, paced and angry. 

15:29 - Cable plants a mild smile on his face for a Clegg joke about Liam Fox and Ed Balls (if you're attacked by both you're in the right place). It is unconvincing.

15:31 - More fascinating stuff from Vince. "If Plan A really was as rigid and dogmatic as our critics claim, I’d be demanding a Plan B, and getting Danny and Vince to design it," Clegg says. As he does so, Vince closes his eyes in an expression that looks very much like irritation. 

15:32 - So far Clegg has mentioned Ed Balls several times, but he hasn't mentioned Ed Miliband once. Is that part of the coalition strategy to encourage hostilities between them? Or perhaps they think Balls is more of a turn-off for the public.

15:34 - The section on the 45p top rate is smart. Here is the build up: "At the last budget, we made two big announcements: that we were spending three thousand million pounds increasing the tax-free allowance, and just fifty million pounds reducing the top rate of tax while recouping five times that amount in additional taxes on the wealthiest. I insisted on the first. I conceded the second. But I stand by the package as a whole." What's effective, is Clegg's honesty, if you can call it that, about the negotiations behind closed doors. It gives the impression of him frankly giving party members an appraisal of government, encouraging the feeling they have power - that government is worthwhile.

15:39 - Clegg gets tough on the Tories, with some humour, in a section on the environment. It's OK: "So let the Conservatives be in no doubt. We will hold them to their promises on the environment. Of course, there was a time when it looked like they got it. It seems a long time ago now. When the Tories were going through their naturalist phase. The windmills gently turning; the sun shining in. As a PR exercise, it was actually quite brilliant. Until, at last year’s party conference, they went and ruined it all, admitting that you can’t in fact 'vote blue and go green'. Well of course you can’t. To make blue go green you have to add yellow, and that’s exactly what we’re doing."

15:43 - Here's a selection of responses to that 'add yellow' line from political journalists on Twitter: "'To make blue go green you have add yellow'. ARGGHHHHH"... "Worst line ever written in a leader's conference speech"..."Whole office GROANS at "to make blue go green you have to add yellow." Sounds a bit Stewart..."...""To make blue go green, you have to ADD yellow!" exclaims Clegg. I'm now off to commit suicide"..."is Nick #Clegg getting his gags from Sarah Teather? is that her knew job?"..."That was a good one, and he even paid lip service to the terrible jokefest that goes on at every Lib Dem conference"...""What a generous audience" - thanks Nick, you've just given me a headline with that ad lib"... "Please tell me nobody laughed at Clegg line "to make blue go green add yellow". To find that funny ought to be a capital offence."...""To make blue go green you have to add yellow" brings up vomit image"...."

15:48 - Clegg says the Lib Dems are now "one of the three parties of government". He then tells delegates that discussion about who the party would go into coalition with is unfair, because British people decide. That's a bit of a cheap trick, writing off potential alliances with Labour - and therefore questions about his leadership - as undemocratic.

15:52 - There' a massive round of applause for the Paddy Ashdown announcement. Probably the biggest of the afternoon.

15:53 - Clegg offers a nice little line about looking in the rear view mirror and seeing Lib Dem MPs going back to their constituencies and preparing for government.

15:55 - Unfortunately he ends badly by shouting 'let's go for it' with his arms held wide - like a Butlins entertainer.

15:56 - Then it's the usual catastrophe of flashlights as Clegg and his wife leave the hall, waving, surrounded by grim-faced security officials, to a standing ovation.

15:59 - OK, I'll wrap this blog up now. That isn't a conference speech which will be remembered in years to come. Franky, it probably won't be remembered next Wednesday. But it did show a confident performer and capped off a conference with much less leadership speculation than we expected. He'll be pleased with how this played out. See you next week... for Labour.

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