Prime ministerial performance?
We have just witnessed a prime ministerial address to the nation. Well, we would have done if David Cameron were actually prime minister. It was memorable not so much for the actions he proposed but the tone he struck.
"We are all in this together, let's stick together and together we'll find a way through" he declared in a message targeted directly at people he described as "worried, confused and concerned". His pledge was not to repeat the political wrangling seen in America because "today was a day for safety, security and protection".
After a few days of failing to grasp how the national mood was changing, David Cameron sought to capture it. The consensus here (in what is, of course, a conference bubble) was that it was politically pitch-perfect. What, though, about the substance?
In reality, there is no chance of the extraordinary scenes in Congress being repeated here, whatever Mr Cameron said. Our system gives the prime minister much greater power to get his way than the president enjoys. There are, also, no elections here to frighten parliamentarians into vetoing proposed bail-outs.
The Treasury says that the Tory leader's specific proposals are either unnecessary or would have no impact on the immediate crisis:
• David Cameron promised to drop opposition to the Banking Bill which is being debated in the Commons next week. However, the chancellor believes that he already has all the powers to handle failing banks that he needs as the partial nationalisation of the Bradford & Bingley demonstrated. The Bill is a long-term replacement for emergency powers (granted to ministers after the run on Northern Rock) which run out in February.
• The Tory leader called on ministers to accelerate new legislation to protect savers' deposits beyond the £35,000 currently guaranteed, and to compensate savers in seven days, not months as now. The Treasury say that they support extending the guarantee but insist that the FSA already has the power to do so. It is considering the impact on the banks before doing so.
• Finally, the Conservatives are calling for a temporary suspension of what's called "marking to market" - a process whereby banks daily price their assets which, it's argued, is causing bank stocks to spiral downwards. This is an issue that Alistair Darling has discussed with other EU ministers because he believes it would help banks reconstruction. However, he believes that it would have "zero effect" on the current crisis if it were announced tomorrow.
The Conservatives have looked wrong-footed by this crisis - unsure whether to defend the financial markets or to criticise it, uncertain whether to condemn state intervention or to support it in the national interest, unclear whether this is a crisis of regulation or of Gordon Brown's making.
Opposition leaders know that, in times of crisis, they can offer only words and not actions. David Cameron used his words today with considerable skill.