Nick Clegg: 'Not easy but right'?

Nick Clegg Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Clegg criticised Labour's economic record, calling the previous government "clueless"

Do you remember Cleggmania - when the Liberal Democrat leader was the most popular politician since Winston Churchill? He does. His party do but it all seems a long, long time ago.

As if to remind them of what they have lost, protesters gathered outside this conference, chanting, "Nick Clegg we know you. You're a lying Tory too".

What they remember is what they call his betrayal - on cuts, on tuition fees but above all on co-operating with the Tories.

The leader whose party this year lost elections, lost a referendum and lost trust too, told his activists why it was all worth it, why it was "not easy but right".

That word "right" Nick Clegg used again and again. Eighteen times in all.

It was right, he said, to help form a strong government to tackle the deficit. It would have been easy to stay in opposition and oppose the cuts.

All week Lib Dems have stood on the conference platform and tried to make themselves look different from their Conservative coalition partners.

Nick Clegg has been irritated by language he regards as over the top and warned his party to stop behaving like they are still in opposition and remember they were in government.

Where others won laughter and applause by poking the Tories in the ribs, he aimed his blows squarely at Labour's two Eds - this is no time, he said, for Gordon Brown's backroom boys.

The Lib Dem leader is positioning his party as fairer than the Tories while more competent than Labour.

Second chance

Government had brought difficult decisions, Clegg told his party, and the most heart-wrenching was hiking student fees.

There was no apology for that but there was an acknowledgment that he'd got the politics badly wrong and that most people simply did not believe his claim to have made the policy better than it would have been if the Lib Dems had never entered government.

Nick Clegg says it wasn't easy for him and his party to trade the comfortable irrelevance of opposition for the difficult decisions of government but, he added, it was the right thing to do.

Many voters may say "for you, maybe" but what about us?

The test of this speech and this conference will be whether the country gives him a second hearing.