Nick Clegg doesn't have his party behind him, but the Lib Dems were surprisingly grown up this week
The Liberal Democrat party conference could have been a disaster for Nick Clegg. But the beard and sandals brigade never quite struck home, says our UK politics editor Harry Cole
Though you may not have noticed it with the latest death rattle of the Euro, cash injection from Obama and the brewing head to head at the UN over Israel and the Palestinians, the UK's Liberal Democrat party have been having their annual conference this week.
The Deputy Prime Minster, Nick Clegg is either a saviour of the UK economy or two faced turncoat traitor, depending on who you talk to. However it is fair to say he is broadly to the right of his party, most of which are holding their noses at the coalition he took them into with the Conservatives.
It's a party built from various (mainly lefty) factions, from classical liberals to frothing at the mouth, swivel-eyed europhiles and socialists. One thing is for sure: 90 percent really like the NHS and really like free university education. This could have been a messy week for Nick Clegg.
Clegg had one message to pull off at this conference - that party interest needs to come second to the national interest. If he hadn't accepted Cameron's offer and pulled together to stop the bottom falling out of the nation's economy, Clegg argues that the Lib-Dems would be in even more trouble.
The party faithful are unhappy - they hate the Tories. But Clegg clearly cares more about the judgement of history than the opinion of some bearded and sandaled activists.
One thing the Liberal Democrats used to bemoan in opposition the most was the lack of airtime and coverage that the media gave them. That's no longer the problem.
The headache for the leadership now is trying to keep the whackier elements of the party out of sight (and mind) and leave them stuffing envelopes as they always used to.
However, those below Clegg refused to let an opportunity like this go to waste. Of course the Liberal Democrats needed a chance to regroup, huddle and rally but they have spent far more time defining themselves as enemies of their bed partner rather than their barmy former crush - the Labour Party.
From the conference floor,Tim Farron, the Party's president, has barely been able to keep his clothes on, playing footsie with the Party's most leftist faction, and promising them the world if they put him in the diary for a later date.
In a way, Clegg's keynote speech on Wednesday was never going to be the real issue, because it’s long been clear that his party isn’t really behind him.
Simultaneously, though, they have also made clear that they are not going to rock the boat, too much. They could have hounded Clegg and the Parliamentary Party for days, yet the only real signs of tension seemed to be coming from the top.
The rank and file were, for the most part, on their best behaviour.
There are many reasons why they seem to have collectively reached this decision. Perhaps it's the allure of finally being in power, or deep down they know they are screwed anyway and might as well go down together. Or just maybe their loyalty to the party leader and the party interest has inadvertently saved the day.
When a party is destroying itself for the good of the country, loyalty to that party becomes loyalty to the country.The Liberal Democrats should be congratulated. It's the week they finally grew up.
Read more on: harry cole, Liberal Democrats and the Tories, Nick Clegg, Lib Dems and Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Coalition government and Nick Clegg, and Liberal Democrats and Conservatives
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