Conference sketch: Inclined towards more of everything

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The Independent Online

You want to hear about the sex, the spanking, the animal husbandry, the bondage, the sex toys, the transvestite, the lurid headlines of this shamelessly sensational party conference, but the Sketch aspires to a higher tone. I'm afraid you'll have to put up with it.

At the risk of alienating true-born Liberal Democrats from their birthright, I have to say I'm rather inclining to the Lib Dems. Inclining, that is, in the sense of inclining myself against a wall while gathering strength to get home after a brutal evening on the elderberry and nettle wine - but that's more positive than hitherto.

To their credit, they've re-balanced the contradiction at the heart of their party. They are still promising us more of every opposite - more guns and more butter, more chalk and more cheese, more liberty and more equality - but for the first conference I've attended they seem to be offering more liberty than equality.

This has some electoral merit. It will appeal to lapsed Tories, confused Blairites, disillusioned business people and the stonking majority who have been democratically dispossessed by the great Leviathan of the state.

They also had an exorcist addressing them the other day. Another first.

Vincent Cable had been floating the idea of demolishing the department he would inherit if ever his party got power, and then offered to privatise the Royal Mail. A point of order from the floor interrupted the debate; it came from a woman describing herself as a priestess and exorcist, and she wanted the debate ruled out of order because delegates were in the grip of dark forces.

Another good reason for voting Lib Dem: the power of Christ compels us! It's enough to turn your head. Twenty years ago, conference would have insisted that this lady perform a full public exorcism on Mr Cable - demonic possession could be the only reason for him saying such horrible, terrible things. In the event, his proposals were accepted by the conference. Then a fight broke out and the antagonists had to be separated by the stewards. As I say, I'm coming round to these Lib Dems.

The organisers used to make an unofficial award called the Mitcham and Mordern Memorial Tea Trolley. Maybe they still do. It was for the silliest remit and was inspired by Mitcham and Mordern, which proposed a law be passed to regulate for a maximum distance between motorway lavatories. There is a clearly observable reduction in this level of insanity.

While they're offering a higher rate of income tax for earnings of above £100,000 a year, they're not calling for a higher tax burden overall, and they're not asking for yet more money for the NHS. They say, and with some justice it pains me to admit, that they made and won that argument.

To reassure the old guard, equality may be less emphasised, but the nannying is still there. While corporal punishment for children is to be banned, capital punishment is to be brought in for disobedient dogs (unless they're foxes, in which case they're to be protected. Or poisoned). They seem to be as one on that, whether they're Liberals or Democrats.