Bemused. Befuddled. Dazed and confused. That’s been the general reaction of political commentators to the view that has greeted them at Lib Dem conference.
When Nick Clegg stares out at the assembled party faithful to give his cheer leading address, before sending the troops out over to the top into what the opinion polls suggest will be electoral oblivion, he might expect a degree of weary resignation in the hall, perhaps even a hint of resentment and a whiff of rebellion in the air.
But instead he will be greeted with a roomful of largely, passionate and enthusiastic Liberal Democrats, eager to embrace the fight ahead. And no one seems able to work out quite why the party is so chipper.
There have been a myriad of suggestions to explain what’s going on. One idea being put forward is that its relief that that the five years’ hard labour chained to the blue scourge is nearly over – duty done, economy rescued, country saved and all that. Some Cabinet Ministers who feel this way think they deserve a medal. Perhaps they could call it the VC.
Others suggest the opposite; the party is seeing Labour drop in the polls, making another Lib Con alliance more likely. Yes folks, perhaps we could do the last five years’ fun and games all over again. This explanation relies on something a little akin to Stockholm syndrome, with activists falling helplessly in love with their captors.
But most commentators have failed to see the real reason why Lib Dem activists still see the sunny side of life. It’s why they go into the next election with a spring in their step instead of regicide in their hearts. It’s the same promise Obama and Clinton both ran on, and won on. No, not the economy, stupid. It’s Hope.
There’s no doubt that the fact that no single party is looking likely to dominate the polls over the next seven months makes the mood within the party of “sod the polls, we’ll still be the kingmaker” all the more prevalent. Not even the fact that the SNP (potentially taking up to 26 seats in 2015 according to some polls), the DUP, Ukip or the Greens could all take enough seats to have a say in who sits in No 10 in May next year is going to dampen that enthusiasm. After all, the party has campaigned for a system of voting that would deliver such a result for its entire history. The irony that it may finally happen, but under first past the post, is not lost on the grassroots. What price that AV referendum now?
And while that hope springs internal, and the words “winning here” adorn not just walls of the conference centre but also the hearts of the activists, you’ll struggle to find much blood on the sunshine yellow carpets.
We may make a smaller difference after May ‘15 than we do now. But it’s the hope that we’ll still matter at all that sustains the grassroots. And remember – we’ve all spent a political lifetime living on breadcrumbs.