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Five Things We Learned From the Lib Dem Conference

08/10/2014 16:04 BST | Updated 08/12/2014 10:59 GMT

The Lib Dems are not used to holding their conference last. They usually get to bask in the enthusiasm and energy of being week one in the conference calendar. Whilst members and activists were happy to be in Glasgow, the long trip north proved too much for others with a number choosing not to attend.

Going last also meant that the smaller nature of the conference was all that much more obvious after the previous two weeks. Of course, the Lib Dems escaped holding the conference in a newly independent country by the skin of the Scottish electorate's teeth. Instead, Glasgow welcomed the Lib Dems as only it can with a mix of warmth, humour and windy weather.

Looking at the Lib Dem conference, what has it shown us?

1) Achievements - the Lib Dems took the chance to show the world what they have achieved in Coalition. This meant highlighting not just what they are most proud of but also enabled them to map out how they are different from their coalition partner. Just as Cameron and Miliband appealed to their core voters, Nick Clegg too in his speech did the same, especially where it came to the environment and climate change. His constant refrain of 'designed and delivered by Lib Dems' focused on policies that would hit home to those who 'agreed with Nick' in 2010. Although comments in his speech painting the party as the Westminster outsiders seemed a step too far.

2) Equidistance - all the fire in the conference hall was really aimed at the Conservative Party and, it could be argued, the opening shots were really fired by the Tories at their conference. The idea that a Deputy Prime Minister can be called 'a wa@@er' by Theresa May's Special Adviser still seems completely astonishing but maybe sums up current politics. The Lib Dems obviously want to leave themselves enough space to work with Labour after the election but ignoring them too much risks the possibility, however distant, of Labour getting a majority. Despite Vince Cable's comments on Newsnight that the policy is 'equidistance', the public speeches appear to infer otherwise. Behind the scenes it is claimed that plans are being made to work with the Conservatives again if needs be but any chance of this may be scuppered by the manner of the Coalition's eventual 'conscious uncoupling'. But even the banner on the podium lectern was pointing to the left.

3) Discontent - There are many members who are deeply unhappy about what hasn't been achieved in Coalition. Many, including MPs, were quite vocal on the fringe and did not appear afraid if the media heard them, especially where it came to failing to help the poor. The party is searching for its reason to continue to operate in the current Coalition and walk a line between setting out its values and then 'red lining' what would be in or out of an agenda of any future coalition they could enter into.

4) The party is not dead - the parrot is alive and well and ready to fight at the General Election. This will not save all their seats but proves that they will fight for what they have. This could become increasingly important if the competition to be a Coalition partner becomes more intense. If the SNP pick up 15-20 seats from Labour then they could have around 25. The Lib Dems could be halved to around 30. UKIP could pick up seats and then think about Plaid Cymru in Wales and the Northern Irish parties and the arithmetic becomes more complex especially if 'English Votes for English Laws' really does come to fruition.

Last time around it claimed that Labour did not have the moral authority to form a government, with or without the Lib Dems. Next time we could see all three parties lose seats or fail to make predicted gains so will any enjoy the moral authority to form a government?

5) Tax, spend and be merry - the Lib Dems too have coalesced around the tax and spend agenda. All three of the main parties seem to have agreed on this and whilst the emphasis and balance between the two has, of course, varied this is where the central political debate is. Whilst Cameron's speech, with its direct appeals down the camera lense to the electorate, gathered some very positive headlines, its tax commitments are coming under serious scrutiny. Clegg's approach was to remind everyone that the Lib Dems were delivering tax cuts 'for the many'.

The Lib Dems do not believe that the game is over. Whilst they are obviously worried about what will happen next year, they remain bullish. What we also saw though was leading MPs thinking about what a post-Clegg world might look like. The frontrunners to potentially replace him remain the frontrunners and each made sure they put some of themselves in conference speeches and fringe appearances, not just sticking 100% to the script.

Those that gave the conference a swerve have done themselves a potential disservice. Although rather optimistically, the party handed out booking forms to exhibitors for next year's conference in Bournemouth.

Whether everyone will be doing Labour, UKIP and Conservative conferences or Lib Dem, UKIP, Labour, Conservative and SNP conferences will be decided after May.

The party conference season may be about to get a whole lot longer and more complicated.