The sea at Brighton is a menacing dark green. It is churning angrily, waves dashing against the rusty burnt-out shell of Brighton pier.
Inside the conference centre, another burnt-out shell of an aged, beloved institution is on show. The Liberal Democrat conference is in full swing. Rooms of confident-looking youth mix with a slightly more aged demographic. It’s like an episode of The Thick of It but set in an airport departure lounge. Without the jokes.
Well, one or two. The Scottish secretary, Michael Moore, is being interviewed by a TV crew. Foolishly, somebody opens a door behind him. Half of the set is blown down. Moore, to his credit, pulls a big grin and soldiers on. Willie Rennie, leader of the party in Scotland, looks on approvingly.
In the conference hall, Moore’s speech (boo the SNP) is met with polite applause. Rennie’s effort (ditto) has a few chuckle lines added. Both are warmly received.
Then a series of short presentations, most of them concerning inequality. Councillors and MPs speak. All are reasonable, well intentioned. The capabilities index. Togetherness. Fair pay for all. The nursery premium. But to give in to cynicism for a moment: it’s always deflating when a politician quotes a “constituent” they were “talking to the other day.” It’s the lazy rhetorician’s fallback deus ex machina, and causes the words that follow to tiptoe apologetically into the room, a wan smile on their faces, waving weakly, knowing full well their impostor status.