A few minutes before Philip Hammond spoke, Theresa May entered the hall to a ripple of applause, and the conference was suspended while pictures were taken of her sitting beside another, more important, Philip .
About 20 photographers flung themselves into this task, most of them in a scrum directly in front of the podium, though others sought more interesting camera angles by shooting the back of the Prime Minister’s head.
Hammond’s warm-up act, Ben Houchen, Tees Valley Mayor, had the presence of mind to relax as this went on. “It’s all right,” he remarked, “there’s no rush.”
For such moments of spontaneity, one is devoutly grateful. For although the main hall was full, the proceedings had a strained air, as if the speakers had not the faintest idea how to relax and be themselves – a difficult task when one is also tense and on one’s best behaviour.
Perhaps this tone is set by the Prime Minister herself, so conscientious and so determined always to do her best. Or perhaps it is just the result of the disappointing election result.
For whatever reason, under David Cameron, the Conservatives seemed to find it a bit easier to relax, to glimpse the sunlit uplands, and to feel good about being Conservative. Houchen shows signs of mastering this art, perhaps because in May this year his own election result, as a Conservative elected in the North-East, was so remarkable the BBC did not foresee it, and failed to cover it live.
Houchen announced that “we have a Chancellor with a steady hand on the spreadsheet”.
And there was Hammond, looking every bit as steady as his reputation suggested. He spoke in the manner of a bank manager, giving a stern, wide-ranging account of the nation’s economic prospects, and determined above all to warn us against putting our finances in the hands of a rival concern run by a dreadful man called Jeremy Corbyn.
He reminded us of the horrors of the 1970s – a period when according to some accounts, Hammond read the Guardian, and when many economic calamities occurrred.
For “Corbyn’s Marxist policies” will inevitably lead us back to the 1970s. Hammond mentioned Corbyn a dozen times, and said the man is “a clear and present danger to our prosperity”.
Indeed, it is not even clear he is a man. Hammond proceeded to suggest that at the Labour conference in Brighton, “the dinosaurs” – Corbyn and John McDonnell – “had broken out of their glass cases…ready to wreak havoc” in “a sort of political version of Jurassic Park”.
We shall have to wait and see how keen the voters remain on these dinosaurs. Perhaps it is just a passing childhood phase, which people will grow out of.
Meanwhile the conference, though not stirred to its depths, was glad Hammond had raised the alarm, and was carrying the fight to Labour.