Gordon has told us they can win, Alistair's told us they can win, people from the floor told us they can win and no one has for a minute believed them.
Not for one fraction of a second has anyone taken it seriously. They are so cowed they even let the tiny Liberal Sarah Teather berate them at The Independent fringe meeting for bottling it, for betraying their ideals, for belonging to such a useless, discredited, unelectable party. They just chuckled ruefully.
But then Peter Mandelson took to the conference stage. He looked at them. He spoke. And 20 minutes later, they felt they could think about believing they could do that remarkable thing. It's what a speech can do. It came from the heart, you see, or from whatever miracle of British engineering he has in there.
Mind you, when he started with that long, cartoonish face the first thought was – "Hasn't 3D technology improved!" But he was bold, he was big, he was bravura, it was the best speech they'd heard since Tony Blair stopped making them.
He went from little voice to big voice. Sometimes there was growling. He gave us his Kate Bush, he gave his us Shirley Bassey. He frowned, he smiled. Now fast, now slow. He stopped for daring pauses. It was fabulous. It was a masterclass. He'd copied most of it from Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons episode where he ran for Governor – and none the worse for that.
One quibble: the thumbs-up. The matey thumbs-up needs to extend the thumb fully and it has to lean back pointing slightly towards the shoulder. Peter's thumbs-up pushed the ball of his thumb just above the crease of his index finger and it pointed forward. In Italian it means "You have a tiny penis." That's not what Conference wants to hear. Has the Labour Party "learned to love Peter"? He ravished them, certainly. "If I can come back, (cautious laughter), WE CAN COME BACK!"
It's not humility, strictly, and more than self-deprecation, he presented us with a recognition of the facts. Surprise is the essence of great oratory.
"Deep down in my guts" (don't think about that) "I knew who was going to win the last five elections. Even the one in 1992." And then he turned the bellows on. This next election wasn't lost. It was winnable. It could be done.
And I dare say – such is the Mandelson effect – that George Osborne stopped flogging his manservant for a moment and put his crop to his lips and thought, "Hang on, is it possible?"
When he sat down, poor old Gordon (who looked pretty sick during parts of the triumph) stood up to announce the next speaker, and the hall was full of people leaving.Reuse content