Like the climate, British politics has seasons. The conference season, which opens the political year, is in September and October, beginning with the Trades Union Congress conference, ending with the Tory conference, and sandwiching Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the now electorally significant United Kingdom Independence party, henceforth UKIP, in between. This year the three mainstream parties have returned to Westminster feeling quite chipper while UKIP acknowledges that it had a “bad” conference.
Except for UKIP’s disappointment, this is not unusual. Spending four days off work in the company of like-minded people (and, these days, of lobbyists pretending to be like-minded) tends to produce a false euphoria of expectations. “Hey, we’re not as unpopular as we thought,” the delegates tell each other as they order another white wine. “We might just be on course to win the next election.” It is obvious, however, that if all three parties leave their conferences feeling cheerful, then two of them are being over-optimistic.