Of all the party conferences, the Liberal Democrat bash always feels like a friendly affair.
From the party logo-encrusted biscuits to the sight of a beaming Sir Ed Davey arriving by bike, this year’s gathering on the Dorset coast seems especially jolly.
That’s not surprising.
Four stunning by-election wins have buoyed the party and they’re now eyeing a string of Tory seats in the Home Counties and South-West.
Success has set tongues wagging with open speculation about what could happen if the party holds the balance of power after the next general election.
“If enough of us get elected it puts us in a position to then go to other parties and say, if you want us to support us in some way or another, this is what we want,” said local Lib Dem council leader and parliamentary candidate Vikki Slade.
The party leadership is staying schtum on the subject.
But it’s noticeable that while a pact with the Conservatives has been ruled out, the position on Labour is far more vague.
So what are the chances of replicating by-election victories in a national campaign?
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Party sources say their individual successes are down to a fierce ground campaign that has convinced voters early on that the Lib Dems are the only party able to take on the Tories.
A tacit non-aggression pact with Labour in some places has also helped.
All of this is far harder to replicate when you’re fighting for seats across the country.
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Tory peer Lord Hayward knows what the Lib Dems are capable of, after losing to the party in a by-election in Christchurch – just up the coast from Bournemouth – thirty years ago.
“The difficulty in a general election is they have to identify which seats to go for and classically there is a tendency to overestimate… you need a strong campaign manager saying these are the seats we’re going to concentrate on,” said Lord Hayward.
A policy focus on the environment and the NHS suggests the Lib Dems have that focus, with announcements tailored to wavering Tories in predominantly rural areas.
Tractor driving and canon blasting
The party will also use this conference to try and boost their own leader’s profile.
From tractor driving to canon blasting, cheesy visual photo calls have become something of a calling card for Sir Ed Davey.
Officials say he’s had to take lessons to train up for a secretive stunt planned for this weekend.
While it’s partly about injecting a feel-good factor into a bleak political landscape, the main aim is to grab the attention of the media and public.
The party may already have the gaze of Labour and the Conservatives though.
It’s probably time we paid attention to the Lib Dems again.