It is easy to inflate the importance of speeches made at party conferences. Particularly when those speeches are the last such set piece events before a general election. But they are still, in the end and at bottom, a distillation of what matters most to a leader. A guide to his priorities; a demonstration of his faith.
Somewhere along the line David Cameron has lost that faith. He was elected leader of the Tory party in desperate times and became Prime Minister in dismal times. In both instances he triumphed, at least in part, because he persuaded his audience that though he might look like a traditional Tory he was in fact a rather different type of Tory from those voters had grown fond of despising.
Once upon a time, you see, David Cameron had a story to tell. Somhow he lost that story. Or forgot it. Or felt it no longer mattered or had been rendered obsolete by events. Which is why, as he prepares to speak in Birmingham tomorrow, he’s in trouble.
Of course it’s true that voters might decide in the final weeks of the long election campaign that Ed Miliband isn’t up to being Prime Minister and that, despite their misgivings, they’ll give Cameron a second chance. But it’s also possible that voters already have a keen idea about Miliband’s weakness and will vote Labour anyway. Miliband’s doofusness may be priced-in. If it is then these are the last few months of Prime Minister Cameron.
The story matters, you see. Voters need a reason to believe. They crave inspiration and reassurance. They want to feel their leaders are talking to them, not just to the crazies within the party. Viewed from that perspective this Conservative conference has been a disaster.
The vast majority of British voters who have no time for UKIP cannot be expected to have much time for a party that evidently has quite a lot of time for Mr Farage’s boggle-eyed collection of malcontents.