Sketch: Nick Clegg's speech

Members should “prepare for vitriol and abuse".

When Nick Clegg revealed his message to his members was to go back to their constituencies and “prepare for vitriol and abuse" observers wondered why wait that long.

And thus the sound of blades being sharpened on handy rocks from Brighton’s sand-less beach provided a useful indicator of the welcome being prepared for the Lib Dem leader as he prepared to tell his party that they would not be reaching the sunlit uplands any time soon.

Obviously aware of the threat to their leader the lights in the conference centre were switched off before the speech to allow loyal and ,one assumes, fully frisked members to gather on stage to provide a safe, if staring, background to his end of the conference speech.

With party support now in a place where the doldrums would be a plus and half the MPs in the hall heading for the dole the audience brought a whole new meaning to enthusiasm.

Thankfully for Nick his path had been smoothed yesterday by the decision of Danny Alexander’s mum to allow her youngest a day trip to Brighton to make his own speech.

Still masquerading as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny had plundered the “Greatest Scottish jokes of all time” annual for 1908 to remind party members why they were as deep in the odure as the opinion polls suggest.

Whether this was a deliberate attempt to remind delegates just how worse the situation could be is unknown but Danny was certainly given a prominent position as his leader addressed the faithful.

Having spent much of the parliamentary season in mournful contemplation of the turn-ups in his trousers it was a slightly surreal scene as he strode onto the platform to be announced yet again as the Deputy Prime Minister.

As half the members in the hall joined the party confident in the belief that they would never be in power the reality is clearly a shock but Nick made it clear that having got a sniff of it—and what goes with it—for him at least not to mention Danny’s mam, there would be no going back.

And he turned the history of the Lib Dens on its head by declaring if people wanted protest not power they should vote Labour which, sadly for him , most are apparently already doing.

The past is gone and is not coming back he told the delegates as he announced the last leader but three, Paddy Ashdown, would be getting them ready for the next general election.

And talking of which there was no mention of the other one with Prime Minister in his title busy getting ready for tonight’s appearance on Letterman in New York.

One can only hope that if the” Pleb” story comes up Letterman will seek to confirm with the PM whether his Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell prefers to be called “Thrasher” after his time at Rugby school or by his other favourite title BSD , ‘Big Swinging Dick.”

But that is for conferences to come but meanwhile back in Brighton where

days past a chauffeur-driven was only a dream a party leader’s speech would go on and on as pledges never to be fulfilled were made.

But Nick needed just over the half hour in the new world to tell them they would need binoculars to see the good times coming.

“Imagine yourself standing on the doorstep in 2015”, he asked them.

They did and he left to slightly hysterical applause.

Nick Clegg and wife. Photograph: Getty Images.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.