There was something rather strange about David Cameron's leader's speech yesterday, and I have been trying to put my finger on it. It was partly the slightly strained delivery, partly the muted response from the audience. It was partly peculiar because he was talking about the involvement of ordinary people to an audience which, arguably, rarely meets them.
But I've slept on the question and I think I have the answer, and this explains why the enthusiasm might not have been there for the Conservatives who were actually listened. The reason was that Cameron was giving a Liberal speech and not a Conservative one.
Yes, of course there were things in there which would only be in a Conservative speech (encouraging marriage for example). There are endless sentences you could take out of context which are obviously Conservative. But overall, with the repetition of 'fairness' and the pupil premium and so much else, the context was Liberal. No wonder the audience was not quite sure about it.
Perhaps most Liberal, actually, were the implications for the Big Society and the Kennedy-esque request for help. We Lib Dems might not have put it quite like that, but if I had been writing that speech for a Liberal prime minister, that is what I would have said too. The old days when politicians claimed the exclusive right to deliver everything to a grateful and passive society are over. They can't do it alone any more, if indeed they ever could.
That is Liberalism.
What interests me about it is why. Nobody forced Cameron to make a Liberal speech. There was no pressure to do so. It wasn't as if Clegg had made a Conservative speech at his conference (though perhaps some people might say he did). Of course we are yet to face the cuts avalanche, and things may look different then - it clearly is not yet a Liberal government, after all. But something is going on, and I hardly dare articulate what I think it is.