Coming to Liberal Democrat conference has changed over the years. It used to be the case that you were ignored. You'd spend your days earnestly debating policy motions and amendments then read precisely zilch about it in the next day's papers.
Then came the Coalition, and suddenly we got lots of attention. Sadly, as at March's spring conference in Sheffield, the attention took the form of an angry mob yelling at us through megaphones on the other side of a ring of steel.
Being here at this year's autumn conference, there is a definite sense that the white heat of anger seems to have gone. Well, that is if the experience of the first few days are repeated over the remaining few days anyway. A fenced-off, pre-prepared protest area next to the conference venue stood sadly vacant on Monday, and on Sunday was home to just an inflatable white elephant - something to do with High Speed Rail, I think.
And far from being ignored, what is being said in the conference hall is making it onto the front pages of our national newspapers. Monday's Guardian, for example, leads on Vince Cable's work to tackle excessive pay for corporate fat cats.
It is not just the lack of people yelling at us that leads me to believe that the anti-Lib Dem fury of last year is dissipating. There is proper evidence too. I sat in on a meeting on the conference fringe, hosted by the Times and Populus, the opinion pollsters, and the numbers they have show a clear upward tick in popular sentiment towards the Lib Dems. Yes, the numbers are all worse than before the election, but they have started an upward advance.
This backs up a poll this month in my home region of the South West, which showed party support up for the second month, to stand at 22%.
The chatter around conference is that the reason for this is that the impact Liberal Democrats are having in government is becoming more explicit. No longer are we called upon, as party activists, to promote a kind of Conservative/Lib Dem policy blancmange, where voters have no real idea what bit of a policy comes from the Lib Dems and what bit from the Tories. The sting of May's election results made us rethink that strategy.
From here on in the Lib Dem input will get ever clearer, and that's good. At the next election the two parties will fight as two separate, independent parties. In many constituencies, the two parties will go head-to-head, with Labour nowhere in sight. So, it's right that when that time comes - in 2015 - the electorate is able to decide on the separate records of the two parties, and be able to tell what five more years or either of them will likely mean to them and their families.
Indeed, we're even turning some of our attention to the next election. Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, spoke about his ambition to see the tax-free allowance working people get lifted beyond £10,000 - which is the number one Lib Dem achievement from being in government. He wants to see it lifted to around £12,500, which would mean someone working full-time on the National Minimum Wage would pay no income tax at all. I am tempted to claim credit that I suggested something like this quite recently, but modesty forbids it.
Lib Dems are proud that our conference stills makes decisions, that it still decides on policy. Any local Lib Dem group can table a motion, or indeed an amendment to a motion. An example of this comes from my own experience, from this week. I spoke at conference for the first time on Sunday, moving an amendment tabled by my local party (Plymouth). It amended a motion on schools funding and sought to ensure that more money would be set aside to help the children of our servicemen and women. These children often suffer anxiety and stress, especially if their mother or father is posted overseas to a warzone like Afghanistan. Extra money will enable children to receive the support they need to get through it. I was very proud to have made that change to our national party policy.
I do hope that the angry mob protest of spring's conference was just a flash in the pan as it's on policies like the one I helped bring in on Sunday that voters should begin to judge us once again.
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