Mark Steel: The Liberal Democrats should hire a bouncy castle
What's the point of the Lib Dems having a conference this year? No one will believe anything they say they'll do, so it makes as much sense as having a junkie party conference, where a series of junkies stand at the rostrum and say, "I promise, Mister Chairman, absolutely promise, to pay you back if you can sub me a hundred notes. I know the British people were upset with me when I pledged that if you trusted me I wouldn't take anything and then I nicked your fridge and your bed and sold them for scag but I'm clean now, honest, just a ton or maybe two hundred, and I give my word to this nation I'll pay you back Thursday."
Some commentators suggested, when the Lib Dems broke their pledge to abolish tuition fees by trebling them instead, that as it was still four years to the election the issue would be forgotten by then. There was always some doubt about this, as by then we'll be paying the fees, and not many people are likely to get their bank statements and say, "There seems to be £9,000 a year being deducted from my account and I can't for the life of me remember why. Maybe the Sky Sports package has gone up. Anyway, I can't think of any reason why I shouldn't vote Lib Dem again."
The Lib Dems' problem isn't just the fees, it's that their growth for around 10 years came from appearing to be a radical alternative to Labour. That half of their support won't come back because it feels utterly conned. Like the 20 per cent of their members who left last year, they're furious that something they trusted turned out to be the opposite of what was promised. They're like people who signed up to a WeightWatchers club that every night sat them in a chair and stuffed them with trifle, then said, "Since you've been with us, you've put on five stone, which may not be all you asked for but is at least realistic."
So they can only hope to enjoy a couple more years in government before another 70 years off, in which case they might as well make the most of it. As they've got the use of a conference centre for a week, they should cancel the debate on housing and hire a bouncy castle. Some people might even watch the coverage then, as Andrew Neil asks Ed Balls for his reaction to Vince Cable colliding with Danny Alexander while trying a somersault.
And they might read the reports beginning: "Despite the inevitable leaks, Nick Clegg's leadership speech did contain a few surprises as he began by lining up his front bench and pouring each of them a tumbler of tequila, while the conference chanted 'down in one, down in one', and speculation has grown that Simon Hughes could be plotting a challenge against Mr Clegg as he was the last one to be sick, while Sarah Teather could become an outside bet for Treasury spokesman following a hilarious shriek on the ghost train."