Clegg dreams of Downing Street

By Alex Stevenson

Nick Clegg revealed his ambition to be prime minister in a forceful and passionate leader’s speech to the Liberal Democrat conference this afternoon.

In a speech aides described as the start of the party’s general election campaign, Mr Clegg appealed directly to voters who had never backed Britain’s third party before.

He sought those who “agree with a lot of what we’ve got to say” but choose not to vote Lib Dem in his address to the party in Bournemouth.

Clegg speech in full

Wrapping up a conference which has seen the Lib Dems deliver mixed messages, according to some critics, Mr Clegg argued that “power is yours to give to whoever you choose”.

The impact of his promises of “savage cuts” at the weekend, which would attract current Conservative supporters, was diminished by Vince Cable’s proposed ‘mansion tax’, hitting those owning homes worth over £1 million.

Mr Clegg explained how the two remain consistent, stating that “tax cuts for ordinary people” will be “paid for by closing loopholes for the very rich”.

Clegg speech: Reactions

And, in a clear signal that politics in Britain will now be dominated by the looming general election, he urged voters not to take local factors into account.

“If you share our vision for a different kind of future then go with your instincts – vote Liberal Democrat,” he urged.

Poll: Is Nick Clegg the right man to lead the party?

“Elections are decided by your cross on the ballot paper. Power is not any party’s to be inherited. Power is yours to give away to whoever you choose.”

The speech targeted both Labour and the Conservatives, dismissing the governing party as lacking “the ideas, energy or vision to start again” and the opposition as offering an “illusion of change”.

Mr Clegg added: “Britain needs leadership from a party with real passion, and it’s the Liberal Democrats.

Clegg speech: Analysis

“There is hope for a different future, a different way of doing things in Britain, if we are brave enough to make a fresh start.”

Internal polling and analysis suggests there are enough wavering voters across Britain to gain the 200 or so seats Mr Clegg would need to form a minority government.

Clegg speech: Sketch

But aides shied away from revealing details of target seats to achieve this goal, preferring to emphasise the section of the speech which positions the Lib Dems as a credible force of opposition – or government.