The Lib Dems are commencing their party conference in the city of Liverpool. Party leader Nick Clegg is predicted an unsettled but not rebellious event. The core of his argument to settle unease is that the success of the Coalition will be judged on its five years not the first five months;
"As people start seeing it is a plan that makes sense and will work, we will restore economic growth and confidence will grow."
The new Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs issues the standard advice of what the Lib Dems need to do to survive as a strong separate entity:
"I think what they've got to try and work out, not just this week, but over the next few years, is what is the distinct Lib Dem message within the coalition? How does it differ from the Conservative message? What is the purpose of voting Lib Dem any more? Why not just vote for Conservatives if you like the coalition? At the moment, I think largely because the senior members of the Lib Dems are in government having to run the country, not enough thought and attention is being paid to that."
The distraction of governance itself for a party not used to such a role should not be underestimated. All of the parties in Northern Ireland are still wrestling with it to varying degrees of success even after three years. While south of the border the omens for the smaller coalition party being able to have a distinct message while being in coalition don't augur well both now and in the past. The stronger base of the Lib Dems in local government could be a means of maintaining a distinct message outwith the central government but for that to work it needs to weather the electoral storm that is coming. Also any drift to the Tories at that level will further undermine the perception of the value of the Lib Dems.