9.20 – It's the final day of the Liberal Democrat's conference in Glasgow as Nick Clegg gets ready to deliver his big conference speech.
Not everybody has found it the most thrilling of weeks:
Still being held at the Lib Dem conference, which has now entered its 43rd consecutive day and shows no sign of stopping
— Michael Deacon (@MichaelPDeacon) September 17, 2013
But it's had it's moments. Here's a quick roundup of the top five political stories from the past week.
5. Clegg told to quit leadership: Matthew Oakeshott's eve of conference call for Clegg to stand down was a dramatic start to the week. The Lib Dem peer and close ally of Cable compared Clegg to Michael Foot and warned his party against deluding themselves that things would get better.
4. Nick Clegg calls for unity: Clegg quickly dismissed Oakeshott as a serial complainer and urged his party to take responsiblity for their time in government. Cable also dismissed Oakeshott's comments as "seriously unhelpful." If there had been a risk of a wider rebellion then this probably killed it off
3. Lib Dems want coalition with Labour: two polls of councillors and activists showed overwhelming support for a new coalition with Labour and much less support for a new coalition with the Tories. This is deeply at odds with the party leadership who are thought to prefer another deal with Cameron after the next election.
2. That briefing note: The Lib Dems accidentally released a briefing note intended for their MPs, to journalists. It contained claims that the party wants to tax people earning £50,000 more. This ties in with everything else they've said this conference but the leadership quickly denied having any such plans.
1. Cable eyes the exit door: If the coalition does split before the next election then it's pretty clear Vince Cable will be first out of the door. Cable has gone out of his way to differentiate himself from Clegg and the right of his party during this conference. Is this just Cable being Cable, or is something else afoot? We shall see.
9.45 – The Lib Dems are debating a motion on the detention of David Miranda. Lib Dem Home Office minister and prominent right-winger Jeremy Browne just had the following to say :
"I will make an open admission that it is sometimes difficult to be a Lib Dem minister in the Home Office. Sometimes you see those vans saying 'go home' and I think God are those directed at me?"
After his Daily Mail and Telegraph interviews earlier this week urging the party not to lurch left and calling for a potential ban on face veils, there will be some Lib Dem members who wish he would.
10.00 – The new consensus among many Westminster commentators, particularly on the right, is that Nick Clegg had a good week and is now in the strongest position of all three party leaders. The Telegraph in particular seems to have had a significant conversion to camp Clegg.
Wow, judging by the Telegraph's twice daily email their love for Nick Clegg is relentless.
— Tom Brooks-Pollock (@tombrookspolloc) September 18, 2013
From past few days: 'Clegg finally gets some credit', 'A strong Clegg, a weak Cable', 'Clegg transforming LDs', 'Clegg loud and proud'
— Tom Brooks-Pollock (@tombrookspolloc) September 18, 2013
Not everyone's convinced of course. The Daily Mail's coverage of Clegg's free school meals policy today, suggests that he will continue to be a whipping boy for certain sections of the right.
However, the Telegraph's deputy editor Benedict Brogan thinks it is now the Lib Dems who look serious about government, and the Tories who don't.
"Yesterday afternoon, senior Lib Dems took to joking about how the Tories might look in sandals, such is their mystification – but also delight – at the way the Conservatives are settling into the bad habits that used to be a Lib Dem hallmark. There is still plenty of time for things to change. In politics, things do. But the election is approaching, inexorably, and the Tories must at some point ask themselves why they are the ones who are starting to look as if they just aren’t that interested in remaining in office."
10.09 – Here's a snippet of what Clegg is expected to say later:
"Imagine the next round of leaders’ debates – everyone watching to see who agrees with whom this time," he will say.
"David Cameron will say to Ed Miliband: you’re irresponsible, you are going to drive the economy to ruin. Ed Miliband will say to David Cameron: you can’t be trusted to help everyone, you’re party only cares about the rich."
"For once, I’ll agree with them both. Because they’re both right: left to their own devices, they’ll both get it wrong."
You can read our full preview including some more excerpts from the speech over here.
10.25 – Attendance at this year's Lib Dem conference has not exactly been stellar as this picture of Norman Lamb delivering his speech yesterday shows.
Perhaps the reason for Clegg's relatively easy ride at this conference, is that most of the activists unhappy with his leadership have already left. This is a problem for all parties as our story on Tory membership this morning shows.
But it's a particular problem for Clegg. The Lib Dems have been keen this week to highlight polling by Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft showing that the Lib Dems are doing much better locally than they are nationally.
Other research has shown that voters tend to be more satisfied with Lib Dem MPs than Tory or Labour ones, suggesting that the Lib Dems could hold on to a reasonable amount of MPs in 2015 despite the big fall in their polling levels nationally.
They held on at the Eastleigh by-election partly because of this but also because Lib Dems flooded in from around the country to help out. They won't be able to do this at the next general election.
Nick Clegg said earlier this week that he thinks the Lib Dems have around 40,000 members left. Will this be enough? And how many of these will feel motivated to campaign for the party under Clegg?
10.35 – Lib Dem Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore is up now giving a speech about Scottish independence. A slew of polls has shown that this is an argument the No campaign are winning.
Coalition has hurt the Lib Dems in Scotland, where Conservative voters are now an endangered species. Independence from Westminster could arguably help the Lib Dems form a new identity north of the border.
Nevertheless, they're against it. Here's a snippet from Moore's speech:
"Five years ago they were telling us that the pound is a millstone around Scotland’s neck. Now they say they will keep it, come what may, as a step to who knows where. And their plan to keep the pound devalues by the day. Yesterday, another independent report showed that an independent Scotland using the pound would risk tax rises and higher borrowing costs."
"Like Harold Wilson, the SNP wants you to believe that the pound in your pocket would not be devalued. But the stark truth is that it would cost you more. The nationalist case shifts with events. By contrast, the case for the United Kingdom is strong and sure."
It's an unshowy, some might say dull performance. Polls show there are lots of undecided voters in Scotland. Moore's speech is unlikely to shift any.
10.48 – Moore raises his dour monotone voice a few decibles to signal that the end of his speech is coming. There is brief perfunctory applause as he shuffles off.
11.00 – David Laws is giving a speech about the party's next economic manifesto. He says the conference has shown that the Lib Dems have finally grown up.
He recalls his first ever conference in 1994 which he says:
"Was something of a media dream. There was a debate on the legalisation of drugs and another backing the state regulation of brothels, followed by a row over plans to abolish the monarchy and it all culminated in Paddy Ashdown doing what the media called storming off. It was my first conference and there was a moment when I feared it might be our last"
He may be right, but a quick look back to September 1994 shows that the party were actually on 18% in the polls then, which is double what they're on now.
Perhaps the public like parties to have debates about drugs, prostiutution and the monarchy and don't like parties that are just watered down copies of all the others. It's just a thought.
11.30 – Another excerpt from Laws' speech. He claimed that:
"Labour cannot be trusted to deliver a strong economy. The Conservatives cannot be trusted to create a fair society. The Liberal Democrats represent the mainstream majority of the British people – who do not want to have to choose between economic efficiency and social justice."
We've heard a variation on this from pretty much every front bench Lib Dem speaker this week and we'll hear yet another variation on it from Nick Clegg later on.
The Lib Dems want to portray Labour and the Tories as being on the extremes of British politics, while the Lib Dems are on the mainstream centre ground.
It's a reasonable enough message but it does come across as a little convoluted.
Do they really think the public will go into the polling booth thinking "oh well I would vote for Labour but they can't be trusted on the economy, and I would vote for the Conservatives but they might deliver the wrong kind of recovery, so I think I will marry economic efficiency and social justice and vote for the Liberal Democrats instead"?
They might do I guess, but it's a difficult slogan to fit on a leaflet.
11.40 – The Telegraph are continuing their new found love in with Nick Clegg. Next up is Dan Hodges who agrees with Laws that Clegg is now the leader of a grown up party.
"If the electorate can be convinced the Coalition has indeed begun to make headway in the eye of the global financial storm, and made a start clearing up the mess perceived to have been left by Labour, then they may be persuaded to give Nick Clegg and his party a second chance. Nick Clegg understands that. He has decided to grow up. No more toys will be hurled from the pram."
"Of course it may make no difference. The Lib Dems are still in deep political difficulty. And only a relatively narrow range of results will see Clegg and his party back in coalition. But if Nick Clegg does leave government in May 2015, it will be as a man, not a boy."
On a side note, this is the third article in a row from Hodges that does not have Ed Miliband as it's main subject. Impressive.
11.55 – Simon Hughes has just urged his party to "work with and not against" trade unions.
He may just have had his wish. The GMB have just sent out this statement welcoming Clegg's announcement about free school meals.
Brian Strutton, GMB national secretary for public services said:
"GMB represents most school kitchen staff and we have been campaigning for universal free school meals for several years."
"This announcement is a welcome first step but to be effective free school meals must apply throughout primary schooling. GMB hopes this will be a Labour commitment for the next election."
So they're grateful for the policy, but they'd really rather it was Labour introducing it instead. Still, the Lib Dems haven't had much praise from unions over recent years. They'll be pleased to have had some today.
12.35 – As Clegg gets ready to sell his free school meals policy in his speech, it's worth taking a look at the evidence from the pilots carried out so far.
Here's five key points from that study.
- Take up of free school meals went up as you might expect, but it also went up among kids who were already entitled to free school meals.
- Just extending who was entitled to free school meals didn't significantly increase take up but making it universal did.
- The trial did not seem to make kids much healthier however. There was no obvious change in obesity levels
- Pupil performance went up significantly, with primary school children making between four and eight weeks more progress than pupils without universal free meals.
- Performance went up most among the poorest children most, despite the fact that they were already entitled to free meals.
£600m may sound like a lot of money, but the evidence suggests it could be money well spent.
13.50 – It's one hour to go until Clegg's big speech and we've had a chance now to take a look at the final version of what he's expected to say. I can't tell you much more than I already have, but suffice to say it's a little more aggressive towards his coalition partners than the extracts already out there will have suggested.
14.00 – All morning Labour types have been frantically sharing this picture of an old Southwark Lib Dem leaflet on Twitter.
Danny Alexander was asked on the World at One why some Lib Dems including Simon Hughes, had so fiercely opposed free school meals when Labour introduced them in Southwark.
Alexander said it was all about funding:
"I was speaking to some colleagues in Southwark about this last night and the route of their concerns was that in the council there, they were cutting budgets all over the place and they were concerned about the allocation of resources within the council. As a national policy which is funded by the government that removes that pressure."
Which isn't terribly convincing. Still, I don't think Alexander or Clegg will lose too much sleep over an old Lib Dem leaflet from Southwark.
They will care about whether the policy will be popular across the country with voters in 2015. I suspect it will.
14.31 – With so much praise in the press this week, Nick Clegg ancould be forgiven for letting it go to his head. Ben Page of pollsters Ipsos Mori has just brought him back down to ground.
He tells the Daily Politics that the Lib Dems are currently on course to lose between ten to twenty seats at the next general election and are likely to only get a "tiny" bounce from the conference. "The caravan will move on" he adds.
14.43 – Clegg's about to kick off. Try not to get too excited.
15.02 – And he's off. He starts by reminding his party how far they have come.
When he entered the Rose Garden with David Cameron, the country was in serious economic crisis he says.
Worse than that they didn't even have enough furniture to accommodate Clegg and his team in Whitehall. Perish the thought!
"Picture it: history in the making as a Liberal Democrat leader entered, finally, into the corridors of power, preparing to unshackle Britain after years of Labour and Conservative rule. Only to arrive and find an empty room and one shell-shocked civil servant promising me we’d get on with things shortly – but first he had to get us some desks."
"You saw the calm bit in the rose garden. What you didn’t see was the utter chaos indoors. To say the Coalition caught Whitehall off guard is a massive understatement. The Government machine had no idea how it was going to handle power sharing – and not just the furniture, this was going to need a complete overhaul of how decisions would be taken and departments would be run. And – while no one really wanted to admit it at the time – the truth is, no one was quite sure how it was all going to work."
15.03 – Clegg reminds them of the "soundtrack of pessimism and naysaying" that accompanied the Lib Dem's first days in government. He says they can now be "trusted with the biggest responibility of all. Fixing the eonomy."
15.05 – Clegg says he is glad his kids were too young to understand the vitriol used against him. This makes me slightly uneasy. Best for politicians to keep their kids out of their speeches I feel.
15.07 – We're into the section where he tells us all how amazing the world is since he introduxed Lib Dem policies:
"Elderly people will no longer have to sell their homes to pay for social care because we’ve capped the crippling costs. Mothers will no longer be worse off in retirement because our new simpler, fairer state pension recognises the value of raising a family. Fathers will have the choice of staying at home once their children are born because we’re transforming parental leave…"
It goes on as Clegg gradually raises his slightly raspy voice. He probably wanted a big cheer for this bit. He doesn't get one.
15.10 – "Three years. Three years. We’re not even done yet. Can you imagine what we could do with five more?" Clegg asks, before telling us.
15.11 – Labour would wreck the recovery and the Tories would give us the wrong kind of recovery says Clegg. This is the Lib Dem's new slogan for the week.
15.12 – The biggest round of applause so far goes to the following section attacking Miliband and Cameron:
"Imagine the next round of leaders’ debates everyone watching to see who agrees with whom this time. David Cameron will say to Ed Miliband: you’re irresponsible, you are going to drive the economy to ruin. Ed Miliband will say to David Cameron: you can’t be trusted to help everyone, your party only cares about the rich. For once, I will agree with them both. Because they’re both right: left to their own devices, they’ll both get it wrong."
15.14 – Clegg says his political world view was formed during the miners strikes and the Cold War. He says the Berlin Wall coming down gave him a "sense of optimism" but then:
"All I could see was a bunch of Tories too busy tearing strips off each other – embroiled, surprise surprise, in rows about European Treaties and widget directives. It was so totally dispiriting: everything I’d come to abhor about the politics with which I’d grown up: insular, petty, polarised."
15.17 – Unlike the "old parties" the Lib Dems "speak for big enduring values" says Clegg. Whatever that means.
15.19 – Biggest laugh of the speech is for a joke about Tory backbench proposals for Margaret Thatcher day. He says it would be the only public holiday in which people in Glasgow would want to stay at work.
15.20 – Clegg reels off a long list of policies he claims to have stopped in government.
"Inheritance tax cuts for millionaires – no. Bringing back O’ levels and a two-tier education system – no. Profit-making in schools – no. New childcare ratios – no. Firing workers at will, without any reasons given – no, absolutely not."
"Regional pay penalising public sector workers in the north – no. Scrapping housing benefit for young people – no. No to ditching the Human Rights Act. No to weakening the protections in the Equalities Act. No to closing down the debate on Trident. Had they asked us, no to those ‘go home’ poster vans."
"No to the boundary changes if you cannot deliver your side of the bargain on House of Lords reform."
This list gets the biggest round of applause of the speech.
15.24 – Now we're on to Labour. "Labour haven’t set out any kind of vision for Britain because they didn’t think they needed to," he says. "They have spent the last three years lazily assuming austerity would drive voters into their laps."
He says Labour are pessimistic about hte economy.
"Even when we hear good news about the economy, they’re miserable – they’d rather it be bad, just to score points against us."
15.28 – And now on to Europe and Ukip. "We will be the party of in", says Clegg slightly confusingly. Was that even a full sentence?
15.29 – Clegg defends his stance on Syria. While everyone was concentrating on Miliband and Cameron, many people missed that Clegg suffered a major rebellion from his party on Syria.
He sticks to his message anyway. He says that "what matters now is that we are clear that this nation is not heading into retreat. It would be a double tragedy if the legacy of Iraq was a Britain turned away from the world."
15.32 – Clegg talking about his father-in-law, who was the first democratically elected mayor in his Spanish town in the 70s. It's not entirely clear what relevance this has to anything, but it's a nice story.
15.34 – "I’ve sat in rugby grounds shouting my head off for England while the Scottish fans have shouted back just as loud" says Clegg. The image of Clegg shouting raspily at an England rugby match is somehow unconvincing.
15.35 – "Delivering Home Rule is a tantalising prospect" says Clegg before raising his voice again to make it clear he wants another round of applause. He gets one, but it's not particularly tantalising.
15.37 – Clegg compares Miliband and Cameron to sofas. He seems mildly obsessed with furniture for some reason.
15.39 – Clegg gets literally one cheer for saying that he would make a better prime minister than David Cameron. "Thank you" he says. "Give that man a job"
15.40 – He's getting even louder and raspier now. "We’re not here to prop up the two party system: we’re here to bring it down!" he shouts managing to wring a few more cheers from the crowd.
15.42 – He's bringing his big theme together now. Flexible working, tax free childcare and free school meals are what he's all about. "If you want to know what I really believe in you will find it in these policies," he says.
15.44 – Clegg now announces his free school meals policy. This should get a big cheer from the conference but he already announced it yesterday so it doesn't.
15.46 – Another section on Clegg's family. We've heard a lot about them today.
15.47 – Clegg takes a dig at Matthew Oakeshott. He says "I won’t be in politics forever," much to Oakeshott's annoyance.
15.49 – Clegg talks about being outside of Parliament taking part in an "impromptu gay wedding" while the "dinosaurs" were in the House of Lords trying to stop gay marriage.
"inside the House of Lords, dinosaur opponents of the Bill were having a final go at killing it – declaring that gay marriage would be the end of civilisation as we know it. And, awkward though I think Alistair and I must have appeared as we lamely clapped along to Abba, at that moment we were exactly where we belonged: on the outside, welcoming in reform."
15.51 – "We are a step closer to breaking the two party mould for good", says Clegg as he starts to bring his speech to a close. Get ready for some more shouting.
"Liberal Democrats take that message out to the country," he shouts. "Our mission is anchoring Britain to the centre ground. Our place is in Government again."
It's all over.
15.59 – Snap verdict: my main impression from the speech was how tamely it was received. The audience clapped and laughed in all the right places but it had to be squeezed out of them at times. Perhaps Lib Dem activists are not the most demonstrative of people, but if Clegg can't excite his own activists, then he's going to struggle to excite the country.
16.08 – A final thought for Clegg as he finishes his speech about how important it is to have a coaliton government. Details of a new poll has just arrived in the Politics.co.uk inbox.
According to the poll by Comres, 67% of the public would prefer there to be a single party majority government after the next election. Just 10% disagree.