Lib Dem conference: Has it all gone right?
Liverpool: This Liberal Democrat conference reminds me of a story George Best used to tell about his fans' lack of perspective.
George Best in Marbella, May 1972
The football legend was at the height of his fame and fortune but on a run of poor form on the pitch. In a smart London hotel, he called room service to bring up some iced champagne. When the waiter arrived in the suite, he recognised Best, barely glanced at the beautiful, naked woman lying on a bed covered in cash and, as he opened the bubbly, asked earnestly: "Mr Best, where did it all go wrong?"
It's the question some Liberal Democrat activists seem to be asking, ignoring the fact that they're back in government for the first time in more than six decades and that they now have five cabinet ministers, despite having only 8% of the MPs elected at the general election.
Not all here have lost perspective. One conference veteran tells me that he had responsibility for security at the first-ever Lib Dem conference. The policeman in charge explained that the threat level was judged on a scale of one to 10 - the Lib Dems were nought. The man from the party pleaded in vain to be upgraded to at least level one.
Nick Clegg arriving at the ACC Liverpool
No such worries these days. Now the Lib Dems, like their Tory and Labour big brothers, are protected by a ring of steel. Their leader is driven around in an armoured Daimler. The party matters in the way that it once dreamed of.
So why the fretting here in Liverpool? A few opposed this coalition in the first place, though most will, for now, follow Charles Kennedy's lead when he declares that, whatever his doubts, this arrangement must now succeed. Every one of Nick Clegg's predecessors has aired doubts, leading one Clegg ally to complain that they're acting like a father who can't bear to see his sons succeed where he failed.
Many have policy worries: about the cuts, of course, about free schools and about NHS re-organisation. This is inevitable in a centre-left party with a largely centre-right leadership.
The majority though seem to welcome being in government and to understand the compromises that that makes necessary. Their worry is how their party can get out of this coalition alive, without either being smothered by the Tories' embrace, or strangled by an electorate angry about it.
The answer coming from the leadership is clear: they're playing a very, very long game. Their aim is to silence, once and for all by 2015, the perennial election claim that a Lib Dem vote is a wasted vote and the party is one of protest and not of power.
They point out that, at this point in the last Parliament, David Cameron was not yet Conservative leader and the Lib Dems had three leaders to get through - Charles Kennedy, Menzies Campbell and temporally Vince Cable - before they reached Nick Clegg. Their message is, in other words, that this may not be perfect but, as George Best found, it can feel pretty damn good and a whole lot better than what they'd expected a few years ago.