Daisy Cross: For better or worse, they're getting used to the limelight

First Person: The party's relative failure in the election was ignored in favour of its new position as "player, not spectator"
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The Independent Online

A £40 train fare and a Sunday spent in the grey outskirts of Birmingham ensured only the hardcore activists turned up to the Liberal Democrat Special Conference this weekend.

A rumble of excitement went around the carriage as the train pulled late into the NEC, a crowd of eager Liberal Democrats spilling on to the platform and thundering towards the conference hall.

Most were well-turned-out, even the ponytail-wearing male contingent managed to put on a suit. Middle-aged women in cashmere sat alongside young lads dressed up to look smart for the big occasion. All were wearing a splash of yellow, mustard or gold somewhere on their person. I even spotted the occasional navy and gold club tie.

The ambience was similar to that of a very successful village fete; many had brought their own sandwiches, some had brought their babies, but everyone was focused centre-stage, the odd gleeful glance sideways or incredulous nudge asking: "Are we really here?"

Apart from one councillor, who declared the party had "made a pact with the devil" to awkward applause, there was hardly a word uttered against the new coalition, although Theresa May's appointment as Home Secretary welcomed a few snorts of derision.

In fact, there was back-slapping all round, with enthusiastic applause greeting each new speaker. The gentleman next to me – dressed in a bright yellow blazer and matching bow-tie – roared with laughter and punched the air at even the weakest comic reference.

The slogan of the day was "I agree with Nick", used at least five times by various speakers to self-indulgent giggles,and emblazoned across the chests of some of the nerdier activists.

Clegg, who until recently could walk unnoticed through an airport atrium, looked fortified by the standing ovation and bellowing cheers he received as he walked on for the closing speech, following an address from a fatigued-looking Chris Huhne.

The party's relative failure in the election was ignored in favour of its new position as "player, not spectator", although there were a few pats of commiseration for Lembit Opik who hovered around the back of the room.

This was a party that seemed very pleased with itself, determined to stay true to it's progressive liberal ideals and confident that it would make the most of its new position. If any dissenters had bothered to show up, they kept very quiet.