Lib Dem diary: Are they too nice for government?

Conference is always a busy time for political journalists – but no conference is stranger than the Lib Dems.

That's not to be unkind to our friends in Brighton. They're possibly the most hospitable hosts of all – but part of the problem could be that the Lib Dems are just too darn nice  for government.

One 13 year old girl who told me she is a "born and bred Lib Dem" explained how enjoyable her hug with Jeremy Browne had been. Apparently, he was among the first MP's to participate in an unofficial campaign by her and her friends to "hug an MP" (no, she is not a hoody). She says "Lib Dem MP's deserve a hug in these times".

And that's why I love the Lib Dems.

But realism doesn't always go hand in hand with 'nice" I'm afraid, and this is why Nick Clegg was forced to make his grovelling apology last week. One local party member vented: "If being so ghastly to students is the price of being in government, we should give up the ghost and go back to being a serious third party". Another upset conference goer said: "This is probably my last conference. I'm not turning my back on the Lib Dems, but I am turning my back on Nick Clegg. We had such high hopes for him and maybe he used to be liberal at heart, but he's just another David Cameron, which means he's just another Tory".

In contrast however, a Lib Dem peer reminded me of that old Oscar Wilde line: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about".

He said: "We've done the whole bit on whether we should have joined the coalition. We might have been wrong, we might have been right, but we are a party in government – and that changes the rules of the game forever."

But with opinion polls dipping to all time lows, the chances of the Lib Dems gaining enough seats to govern in their own right has slipped back a generation, in my judgement.

Sadly, that judgement was at the forefront of my mind when the young 'hug' girl I mentioned told me she wants to be the first Lib Dem leader and second female prime minister. The latter isn't beyond the bounds of possibility.

Sean Dilley is a political writer and broadcaster. Follow him on Twitter.