Now I have had time to consider the Liberal Democrat conference as a whole I must confess to feeling rather... underwhelmed.
The fact is that the party is falling into the same old habits as the other two. The characteristically over the top treatment of the Leader- fireworks, marching bands and all that is expected at the time of his speech, seems now to become an all purpose creep-fest for the entire conference all the time. Far from a genuinely interesting program of debates- with all the disagreements of the old Liberal Assemblies, we now have a uniform blandness and a display of unrelenting toadyism.
It is not particularly Liberal and it is not particularly convincing.
The manufactured unity of the conference does reflect a lot of like mindedness among the party membership, but frankly it also reflects the fact that the party seems to have forgotten its purpose as the focus for new thinking about politics. Our country IS in a crisis and yet there is not only unanimity among ourselves, but beyond the superficial posturing of Tim Farron, pretty much equal unanimity with our coalition partners. The party that demanded reform of our constitution to create greater democracy seems set to hand over more power to our own un-elected SPADs and party bureaucrats. I notice that the Daily Telegraph Top Fifty most powerful Liberal Democrats includes 12 such figures, and even the leader's wife, famously rather detached from British politics is said to be more influential than most of the party's MPs.
Where is the debate? Where is the determination to avoid conformity that is supposed to lie at the heart of our political agenda? Where is the diversity of ideas? Where, in short, is the Liberalism?
It is quite clear that we need a lot of new thinking about the nature of capitalism, the power of the state, and its long term role. What we got was a boast about hiring 2000 new tax inspectors- a boast that for sheer fatuousness is hard to beat. We don't need new tax inspectors, we need a root and branch revolution to simplify and slim our tax code. We don't need empty threats to prevent reform of the NHS: we need actual reform of the NHS, before it goes broke. We don't need the puerile slogans of pavement politics, we need a genuine attempt to reconnect the British people to their political system and a national debate about where we can go from here.
The failure of Liberal Democrat ambition is what disappoints me the most.
We need to work towards a new politics, which is not the use of new media to sell our existing, rather discredited message, but to create a whole new politics: Politics 2.0.
Sure, our political rivals are not thinking too much about this. Labour are -judging from from the unhappy opening of their own conference- in particular trouble, but as political membership continues to fall, it is even more incumbent upon the Liberal Democrats to explore and develop new ideas.
The 2011 Federal conference looked like a great time to meet old friends and cheer on the party- it did not look like a group of people who were genuinely considering ideas, still less ideology. It was stale and rather boring.
That is not good enough any more. Politics is becoming not just irrelevant, but actively malign as poor decisions undermine our economic strength and social cohesiveness. If the Liberal Democrats choose to become simply an adjunct of the political class then they will be punished and rightly so.
Non-Conformist, Radical, Reforming, Liberal.
We need to remember what these concepts really mean and forget the idea of conference as a lick-spittle creep-fest.