Nick Clegg interview: deputy PM rails against pessimism

Once upon a time, the party leadership would use the annual conference to cheer up the membership, to raise the morale of activists ahead of battles to come.

The Liberal Democrat leadership has rewritten the script this week. Vince Cable told us we are facing "the moral equivalent of war" and admitted he could see only grey skies, not sunny uplands.

Nick Clegg spoke yesterday of "a tough year" for his party and for people across Britain. He will use his leader's speech today to warn of "a long, hard road ahead" for every family.

It's been a pretty grim year for the Lib Dems too, partly due to Mr Clegg's decision to lead the Lib Dems into coalition with the Tories at Westminster. The Welsh Lib Dems may only have lost one seat in the Welsh Assembly elections but their share of the vote slumped. I asked Mr Clegg whether he felt responsible:

"Clearly we took a knock in all kinds of elections, not just in Wales but elsewhere this year. I think that's partly to do with the economic environment, people are uncertain and anxious, and partly to do with the fact that, yes, we entered into coalition government with our opponents, the Conservatives who are not popular in some parts of the country not least in parts of Wales."

Except, of course, that in those elections the Welsh Conservatives polled more than twice as many votes as the Welsh Lib Dems.

Mr Clegg suggested that had the coalition not happened - "the sensible, grown-up thing to do" - Britain would have faced a similar situation to Ireland or Greece.

He said the UK Government would concentrate on delivering "hope, jobs and optimism". I wondered how much hope and optimism Lib Dem councillors could look forward to next May,

"You can, if you like, constantly prescribe pessimism," said the leader of a party whose senior figures have been spelling out how bad things are economically "We always bounce back we are always more resilient."

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have two UK Cabinet Ministers. None of the three Welsh MPs is even a junior Minister. Has Wales been sidelined?

"I find that an extraordinary thing to say given in the last 18 months we've done more for Wales, I don't think Gordon Brown ever visited Wales, or barely did. I've been there several times, so has David Cameron.

"We've made anouncements on everything of electrification of rail to Wales through to transport investment projects, through to setting up what we call a new Calman-like commission."

Gordon Brown's friends would point out that he did visit Wales, once to announce electrification of the same rail line. The Lib Dems would say Labour promised the rail upgrade but didn't deliver or finance it.

I've asked the Welsh Liberal Democrats for details of the other Welsh rail investment projects Mr Clegg said his Government had announced - I'll publish them here when I get them.

And the much-announced, long-awaited (in some circles) Calman-like commission on the way the Welsh Government is funded? Why the delay? "Hold your horses" was the deputy prime ministerial advice.