Simon Carr: Bloodied by power, the party discovers just how good it feels

Sketch: It's democracy in action. The voters vote for something and the leaders ignore it
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The Independent Online

"And there are more pretty girls here than at any previous Lib Dem conference." That is a feature noted both by Guardian women and by the Daily Mail – it's a cross-cultural observation.

It's true, it's a law, on a par with the second law of thermodynamics. Aggressively well-presented blondes will congregate in places of wealth, power and action. The last place they expected to find themselves was the Lib Dem conference.

The big hall was full to the ceiling with bewildered Liberal Democrats. They are in government. The "blooding experience" of government, as Chris Huhne put it to a fringe meeting.

They like that kind of talk. It's thrilling in a way they didn't expect. It's like the vegan's first taste of steak – the charred fat on the chin, the blood seeping and bubbling at the edges of the tongue: "Oh God, this vile, this spiritually repulsive meat, nobody said how GOOD it tastes!"

When a fringe speaker said the future of the party was on the left because "the centre and centre-right are far too crowded" he got three people clapping. The rest were otherwise occupied, smearing fat on each other's face like woad.

It's true that the membership passed some sort of motion against the Coalition policy of free schools. Had that happened at a Labour conference (where they manage these things so much better) it would have been a scandal. But the management here made no real attempt to argue the case.

It's democracy in action. The voters vote for something and the leaders ignore it.

But they've made their point, and they're allowed to do that. They're agreeing to differ. It's allowed; expected. There's no appetite for tearing themselves to pieces: that's a luxury of opposition.

The leader's speech. Conference peaked a little early, perhaps. Nick Clegg peaked a little early too – his speech ran out of steam round the halfway mark. We retired to our iPods, or watched the security goon squad heavying audience members trying to use the wrong door.

Nick is a good, confident, attractive second-division speaker. He has pace, light, shade, hand gestures, chinwork, all that. If he failed to ravish his audience, they at least responded dutifully.

The important thing is that he's better than either of the Milibands. E-Mil talks about his "passion" (that's so over). And D-Mil is always stopping his speech to do some charm. Clegg has charm enough, and speaks with enough intensity so's not to remind us he is "reaching out" and being "passionate".

Thus: Clegg will take care of the Labour leader and Cameron will speak above all of them. The hierarchy will be established.

What else? He gave us a glimpse of the particular thing about Liberals. But nothing much about Social Democrats, I thought. Maybe they won't be around forever.

He also showed us the magical future of 2015 (in precis: everything's going to be all right). There was a passage promising he'd never let a Thatcher plague "hollow out whole communities". No, "It will not be like the 1980s," he declared as solemnly as his register allows. Time will tell, but compared with this coalition of fiscal conservatives, do let's remember Mrs T was very much a spendy-spendy sort of politician.

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