By Sean Dilley
Interesting, isn’t it, that party conferences this time next year will be dominated by news of the scheduled trial of former No 10 director of communications Andy Coulson? Food for thought.
But as Labour prepare to travel to Manchester this weekend, Nick Clegg is breathing a sigh of relief that his party’s first ever mid-government-term conference is over and no one has been too badly bruised. There are some advantages to being rock bottom in the polls - in the words of the song, ‘the only way is up’.
But while Ed Miliband and David Cameron prepare to compete for the public’s affections, the Lib Dems seem content with Nick Clegg’s “rallying speech”, which, when summed up, amounted to lying in the gutter and looking up at the stars.
One Lib Dem activist reacted angrily to today’s keynote address. She said, “I’d have been happier if he told us to go home to our constituencies and prepare for suicide”. Another party member overheard her and branded her a “doom monger". She went on: "Nick Clegg’s shown he’s a serious leader, and we’re a serious party. You can’t make dinner without making a mess”. An odd expression but we get the idea.
So what next for the Lib Dems?
Surely this will depend on the country’s economic standing over the next 12 to 18 months. If the country starts to recover - the credible party for government working in the national interest will hold some water. If recovery is something that happens to other countries, the Lib Dems will be lucky to share the government benches with anyone for more than a generation to come.
One Labour official called me this evening, virtually jumping for joy. “If that’s what we’re up against, next week should be interesting for us," he said. A Tory friend merely texted: “What Lib Dem conference?”
But when all is said and done, the criticism of Brighton 2012 is somewhat unfair. The Liberal Democrats proved us all wrong by landing themselves in government and to give Nick Clegg his due, we all know who he is now - unlike when I interviewed him in June 2009 outside Paddington station, when two security guards refused to believe I was interviewing a politician rather than the next deputy PM. In their mind and mine, it was much more likely that we were terrorists undertaking some kind of fiendish plot than two men talking seriously about the future political direction of the UK.
Sean Dilley is a political writer and broadcaster. Follow him on Twitter.