Although I had hoped to get down to the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth this year, simple pressure of work has now made that impossible. I must admit to great disappointment. The last conference before the General Election was always likely to show a few fireworks, and indeed the conference has attracted more headlines than any other over the past three years.
Some of these headlines show a significant change of course in terms of economic policy. Scepticism about the size of government expenditure has given way to concern and now it is clear that reducing government expenditure will need to be the most urgent priority of the next government. So far it has been the Liberal Democrats that have made the running, and although the Conservatives are now belatedly recognising that cuts will be required they continue to fail to provide even the slightest detail as to what they think should guide their decisions in this area. This political cowardice means that we are expected to chose a government without having the first clue as to what the Conservatives might do should they get into office.
The new property tax that Vince Cable proposes: the brilliantly spun "Mansion Tax", at least underlines that the Liberal Democrats are serious about balancing the books. Indeed there has been a plethora of new policy detail emerging from the conference. Neither has there been any of the tension between delegates and leadership that we saw, for example at Blackpool a few years ago. The party looks pretty united and increasingly well organised. The opinion polls offer some comfort, as the party has clearly recovered from the lows of two years ago.
There is every chance that, despite a potential Conservative resurgence, the power of Liberal Democrat incumbency and the growing weakness of Labour will allow the Lib Dems not only to limit any losses to the Conservatives, but also to make substantial progress against Labour. Under certain scenarios, there is even the very real chance to make progress beyond the current level of MPs, and the party of two years ago, traumatised by the internal problems that it then faced would be very happy to see the current position. The Conservative upsurge poses a challenge, but it does not pose an existential threat.
Of course the media's dismissal of the Liberal Democrats: Jeremy Paxman's arrogant assertion that "there can be no distinction between a Lib Dem policy and an aspiration since you are not going to win anyway" remains the primary challenge. When voters think the Lib Dems are able to win, they have a dramatically higher rate of success, so such a dismissal is incredibly damaging. The fact is that the party is back on track, and indeed at local level is making some dramatic progress.
For me it really is a case of "wish you were here".