This was an interesting event. It lacked the sheer fire of some they've held in recent years, but was solid if a little plodding at times.
The biggest issue is, of course, that the sheer cost of attending (including travel, accommodation, the event itself and any incidental expenditure) is nowadays so high that few ordinary members are in a realistic position to attend. Consequently, the emphasis has changed to suit the primary audience, which tends to be lobbyists and party hacks.
This applies to all the other parties as well, of course; but usually the Conservative conference is head and shoulders above all the others, and has been for nearly a decade at least (2005 marked a real sea change that even the press pack recognised at the time).
Even Boris Johnson yesterday was less jokey than usual and more serious than he is inclined to be at these annual events. What he did was good but not outstanding. Interestingly, that seems to have been the theme for this year's conference in general: it's all good stuff, solid and at least factual (though I am sure there are hairs to be split by those determined to do so), but not a great deal for the headline writers to use with any degree of power behind them.
Even the Prime Minister's speech, good though it was, fell noticeably behind his best of recent years. His podium-tapping moments and others intended to induce applause, were just that little bit too obviously pre-planned. Not that the points he made weren't valid, but this could have been handled better I think.
Although as a businesslike mid-term party conference it would have been fine, with just eighteen months or so to the General Election is was a little too tame, I think.
One highlight from this morning was young Zantain, a twelve-year-old going to a free school and so obviously very proud of that fact. The lady was actually brilliant, and rightly received a standing ovation for her contribution. Michael Gove was almost on the edge of his seat throughout, seeing the realisation of his dreams for the free schools scheme speaking directly to him and us.
If that goes up on-line (it hasn't yet: I have checked several ways, to be sure) I shall, if possible, embed it here: otherwise I'll post the link to it if it can't be embedded. Meanwhile, just uploaded, here's David Cameron's conference-closing speech in full...
Overall, this has as usual been the best quality and most trustworthy of all the party conferences so far this autumn, but not the most memorable. I have a feeling it's a building block toward next year's pre-election conference, which ought to be a real blockbuster of an event, referencing this year's foundation stones laid in advance of what looks like it could even be an election-winning campaign.
This is a good thing: present generations now know what a coalition government is like, its pluses and its minuses. I don't think all that many feel the need to continue in the same vein after this term, so I feel a shift in the political will of the nation at large.
They could well vote in a Conservative majority government in 2015, and this week's event in Manchester has laid some of the foundation for such an outcome. It might not have been the most exciting of events, but in the grand scheme of things it might turn out to have been one of the most significant.