The bluffer's guide to the Lib Dem conference

Jane Merrick cuts through the spin to deliver her verdict on the party's performance in Bournemouth


Spurning Tory affections

He was 100 or so miles away in Westminster, but David Cameron made overtures to the Lib Dems' gathering by the seaside in Bournemouth. Over breakfast last Sunday, perhaps Lib Dem hearts skipped a beat with the news of the Tory leader's affections. He claimed there was "barely a cigarette paper" between him and Mr Clegg on touchstone Lib Dem issues such as the environment and civil liberties. On Monday Eric Pickles, the Renato of the Tory party, asked Lib Dem voters to save their love for a "progressive alliance" with Conservatives.

Savaged by his party

If only Lib Dem MPs were as amorous as the Tory chairman and Mr Cameron. Mr Clegg's declaration that "savage cuts" were needed for public spending triggered scorn among his MPs. They didn't like his warning that the long-standing pledge to scrap tuition fees was being put on hold. Charles Kennedy said the policy was a "defining feature of a Liberal Democrat society". Because of the state of the economy, policies were being downgraded to mere "aspirations". By last Sunday night, just one day into his five-day conference, Mr Clegg surely had an aspiration to go home.

Cable infallibility

The rebellious mood did not stop there. Vince Cable, variously labelled the party's saint, sage and soothsayer, suddenly had to deny he was Stalin after he failed to tell fellow frontbenchers about his plans for a "mansion tax" on homes worth more than £1m. Mr Cable found he could not walk on water in an angry showdown with MPs on Tuesday morning. They told him his plans were "codswallop" and "suicidal". Pensions spokesman Steve Webb then embarrassed Mr Cable on stage by saying if Martin Luther King had been a Lib Dem he would have said: "I have a nightmare."

Life's a beach

As the honourable members of Britain's third party fought it out in the conference hotel, outside, at the bottom of the cliff, a young northern bottlenose whale was found dead. It was either a metaphor or an omen; no one could quite decide which, so it was named Gilbert. But it seemed to send a message to Mr Cable that even revered and majestic creatures can end all washed up. Later that day, he agreed to be more consensual. The autumn sunshine also brought happier scenes to the Bournemouth beach: Mr Clegg and his aides playing a game of cricket for the cameras, and Miriam, his wife, taking a morning jog free from photographers and press officers.

Miriam's song at the sea

If you had such a glamorous surname as Gonzalez Durantez, and you married someone named Clegg, well... what would you do? Miriam can be forgiven for keeping her maiden name. Despite this, Mr Clegg and his wife were a picture of happiness as they shared an espresso on the seafront for the benefit of the cameras. Miriam even carried off what appeared to be a pair of dungarees, but are probably the height of fashion. During her husband's speech on Wednesday, we learnt it was their ninth wedding anniversary. Miriam also thinks her husband is nothing like Brad Pitt, the Lib Dem leader told us. And after the speech, as she joined Mr Clegg for a walkabout in the audience, she showed insouciance by pulling up a slipping bra strap. For this, but perhaps in the absence of other contenders, she was the star of the conference.

Vote yellow – go turquoise

The moment was historic, but was barely noticed by commentators. Which is perhaps what the party wanted. Before Mr Clegg's speech, his warm-up man Tim Farron made a joke about yellow not matching his blond hair, clicked his fingers, and suddenly the yellow we associate with the Lib Dems was replaced by a turquoise backdrop and the words "a fresh start for Britain". Turquoise: the colour of warm Caribbean seas; a place where whales do not meet unedifying and chilly ends but swim for ever. For psychologists and brand experts, it is supposed to evoke calm and compassion. Maybe Mr Clegg and his PR people are sending us a subliminal message: the Tories have the slogan "vote blue, go green" but we are actually delivering the beautiful marriage of these two colours. The problem is, in photographs and on TV it looked blue and is therefore indistinguishable from the Tories.

What others said

"The speech sounded bizarre and suggested Mr Clegg had succumbed to the delusion that his party is going to win at the next general election." Andrew Gimson, The Daily Telegraph

"His speech was delivered with poise. But much of it was the most tremendous hooey. Prime Minister, indeed!" Quentin Letts, Daily Mail

"It was a decent performance, his most assured in a leader's most awkward gig of the year. But it was not the speech of a prime minister in waiting." Michael White, The Guardian

What the IoS says

Mr Clegg said he wanted to be Prime Minister, which was a good start. He made a commitment to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000, reduce class sizes and offer apprenticeships for young people within 90 days of losing their job. Britain should not withdraw from Afghanistan but there should be a new strategy. Bathed in calming turquoise, the audience loved it. But then he asked us to imagine a "Liberal Democrat Cabinet". Beyond Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Mr Clegg himself, it was difficult to imagine. The conference started badly and threatened to get worse, but Mr Clegg rescued the week with a confident performance. We will have to wait for the end of conference season to see if voters noticed.

Lib Dems by numbers

21ft The length of Gilbert the whale, who died on Bournemouth beach during the Lib Dem conference.

50 per cent The cut in road tax the Lib Dems would allow drivers in rural areas.

38 The number of times Nick Clegg said the word "change" in his speech.

9th The wedding anniversary on which Clegg addressed his party conference.

3min 14secs The length of the standing ovation after Nick Clegg's speech.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss