The recession pushed the Conservative Party into the language of austerity - a message the British public is not yet ready to hear - and they have not recovered.
I have never understood why David Cameron and his allies stopped short of marching further onto the centre ground of British politics. Tony Blair always said he knew he had a good policy when he heard bleating from the left of his party. The Cameroons should have had the same attitude to the right of the party. The fundamental problem, however, was that Cameron needed the ultra-Europsceptic "nutters" (as Clegg so pithily named them) to win the leadership.
There is now a very serious crisis facing both the two vast political coalitions once known as "the two major parties". Until recently there has been no logical reason to vote Lib Dem (although people still did so in astonishingly large numbers). Now there is a "why not?" factor at work for undecided voters and for wavering Tory and Lib Dem supporters.
Nick Clegg had to do little more than not fall down at last night's debate to continue his historical march. We are now in the incredible position where large numbers of people positively want to vote Liberal Democrat. Labour and Conservative politicians need to realise that this is a new form of protest vote - people will vote Liberal Democrat not as a negative "plague-on-both-their houses" gesture, but because they believe it will change the political culture.
My former colleague Joseph Harker has written a fascinating piece for The Guardian explaining how the Lib Dem surge could push out some excellent black candidates (the Lib Dems have no MPs from the ethnic minorities).
This raises question of whether this party is a worthy vessel for such high hopes. Anyone who has visited a Lib Dem conference will realise that this is a quite particular kind of institution that represents the diversity of Britain only in the sense that its delegates come in every shade known to the bearded, greying, white middle-class.