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So, a few comments at the end of party conference season. What struck me was the contrast between the political gatherings and the country at large. Beyond the conference centres large parts of the nation seem consumed by gloom, anger and fear. Yet within the security cordons all the parties evinced a strange tranquillity.  

So, a few comments at the end of party conference season. What struck me was the contrast between the political gatherings and the country at large. Beyond the conference centres large parts of the nation seem consumed by gloom, anger and fear. Yet within the security cordons all the parties evinced a strange tranquillity.  

The Liberal Democrats find being in power uncomfortable but in the face of their dire poll ratings they carry the stoical resignation of someone in the early stages of protracted root canal work. Despite the pain they still think being in Government is the right thing to do. Having endured so much already why would they stop now?

Although some former ministers miss being able to make decisions that matter and relax in chauffeur driven cars, most people in the Labour Party are secretly enormously relieved to be in opposition. Perhaps the sunny day made a difference, but of all the conferences the one in Liverpool seemed to me the most cheerful. Labour activists had got sick of having to defend their Government and thoroughly enjoy being back on the moral high ground. Those who ask why Labour isn’t more worried at the public’s lack of enthusiasm for Ed Miliband miss the point. Many in Labour recognise the problem but, given how little appetite they have for being back in power (especially when there only seem to be hard choices to make), it’s not really an issue.      

And the Conservatives are relaxing back into their natural role as the party of Government. Although David Cameron’s speech was not exactly exciting (if Cameron speeches were a sport they’d be something with a small and genteel following; maybe show jumping or fencing), but in two ways he showed how confident he is right now. First, his willingness in interviews and his speech to list the things that middle England is moaning about – pay freezes, energy bills, transport costs etc. Only a confident leader chooses to open up his own vulnerabilities in this way - Gordon Brown would never have done it. By naming the grievances he helps diffuse them as a barrier to communication.  Secondly, by talking in his speech about gay marriage and overseas aid, he underlined that he intends to stick to Cameron Conservatavism and not pander to the right of his own Party. Cameron seems to me more assured than any leader since Tony Blair’s early years.

There are plenty of things that could disturb the equilibrium. Ironically, given their objective standing, Labour may be the most stable. The Party has always been remarkably tolerant of losing leaders. Liberal Democrat resignation will only start to give way to panic if the Party’s poll ratings haven’t started to pick up by 2013. As for the Conservatives, the question is whether Cameron is willing to carry on being his Party’s greatest asset while providing only nominal leadership over domestic policy. Surely, sooner or later, he is going to get a grip on Number Ten and try to run the country? If so – and here there is an obvious parallel with Blair’s leadership journey – he might provoke a backlash from the Treasury and noises off from the ambitious Mr Johnson.  

Even so, if you can get half decent odds, it is well worth a punt on a greying Prime Minister Cameron ushering in the third decade of the 21st century.  

But what should we take from the contrast between the miserable but indifferent nation and the contented conferences? Like everyone else I enjoy being pious and indignant about politicians so I’m tempted by the obvious charge that it just shows how out of touch they all are. But it's not just the politicians, it's us as well.

Right now most people (looters and entrepreneurs aside) are just keeping their heads down and hoping they can survive the next few years. Like a birthday cake has to have icing, every political message must be topped off by hope. But whether it’s the Prime Minister’s ‘we’ll all get through this together’ or the Opposition’s ‘when we’re back in power everything will change’, the message seems so hollow and inadequate we can’t even be bothered to get angry about it.

The parties can contentedly talk to themselves and each other safe in the knowledge that almost no one else is really listening.

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