The Sketch: Charlie and his party are in a hole with no doughnut

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The Independent Online

I remember her at the 2001 election when she was only 21 and already standing; I advised her to take up heroin addiction as a healthier way of spending her youth.

But here she is, telling how her party has introduced free personal care in Scotland, and free tertiary education and free eye and dental check-ups. "It's a great recruiting sergeant for the Liberal Democrats!" she said.

Of course it is. Because they don't have to pay for it. The English pay for Scotch teeth. If the Lib Dems in Westminster could get the French to pay for our personal care I'd vote for them myself.

Charles Kennedy is in the process of remaking his party. He wants to purge it of unpopular ideology, to publicise its popular idealism and to make it electable. This is a noble purpose and a great cause. I wish he'd get on with it. "The speed of change is frightening," some delegate said. Not round here it's not.

Charlie's speech to the hall was all hole and no doughnut. He said they wouldn't go anywhere if they stood still (want to throw something at him? Me too.). He said there were tough questions but not what they were. He said it was about thinking hard, but not about "lurching to the left of right (sic)." He said he wanted the country to understand that the solution to their problems were Liberal Democrat solutions (although they didn't know what they might be).

The time would have been better spent showing us how to make a goose out of a paper napkin.

Try this question. What did Tony Blair say to John Prescott in 1994 to make John put his entire political future in the younger man's hands? What was the proposition? The truth would be more interesting than any of the stupid jokes you're trying to think of.

Charlie should find an answer to that question and make the same proposition to his party.

At least he should have made a "fundamental values" pitch so powerfully that the hall started stamping its feet. He needed roaring, cheering. He needed a mandate to say something interesting, something organising, something powerful on the last day.

But that's all for next year. He doesn't want to peak too early. The fool, the fool.

It's much later than he thinks. His party hasn't worked out the original contradictions in his coalition between Liberals and Democrats. The mutually exclusive nature of freedom and fairness, nor the tyranny of the town hall and the horrors of localism (the most vicious court cases are boundary disputes).

Messrs Cable, Laws, Oaten and that new one - they're doing what they can - but the conference lacks momentum, and that's entirely down to its leader.

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