Better a small hall full than a large hall empty, but the modest dimensions of the hall in Manchester still came as a bit of a shock.
The problem remains that however radically one cuts down this handsome old train shed, it is still a horrible place to speak. There is no echo: the sound seeps away through the black curtains which have been used to divide it up.
Before Oliver Dowden, the new Party Chairman, came on, a short video was shown of Boris Johnson campaigning during the 2019 general election and greeting the exit poll at ten o’clock that night with a triumphant cry of “Yes”, his clenched fists raised in the air
“Well conference what happy memories,” Dowden said with a broad smile, “and doesn’t it feel fantastic to be back again at a real Conservative conference.”
The video of Johnson doing his stuff had indeed produced a warm glow, and people were pleased to be back.
There was, however, no danger of triumphalism. Dowden proceeded to declare that “this is a fundamentally decent party”: a true observation, but not one that would set the River Irwell on fire.
“We hold true to our values,” he went on, “but we’re never dogmatic about how to apply them.”
Nobody, one can safely predict, will accuse the new Chairman of being a rabble-rousing populist.
Perhaps in order to turn the volume up a notch or two, he remarked that “in this Prime Minister we’ve got someone who’s not afraid to be bold”. No applause.
“In Rishi Sunak we have a world-class Chancellor.” Modest applause.
“Of course no government is perfect.” Somehow this lacked the snap of “Well, nobody’s perfect”, the immortal line at the end of Some Like It Hot, and it was met with silence.
“Kemi, we are with you all the way.” That line got solid applause: Conservatives strongly approve of Kemi Badenoch.
“Our values are the values of this nation, modest, decent values,” Dowden concluded, and was sent on his way with modest, decent applause.
He was the warm-up act for Liz Truss, the new Foreign Secretary, runaway favourite in recent ConHome polls.
“Conference, it’s an honour to be appointed Foreign Secretary,” she began, and was greeted with enough applause to suggest that her appointment has met with approval.
“My vision is to strengthen our economic and security ties in order to build a network of liberty around the world,” she went on, but somehow the network of liberty did not excite people.
A few isolated phrases, not much related to the network of liberty, produced modest applause, for example: “We reject the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
“This is how, as Foreign Secretary, I will ensure our foreign policy delivers for everyone across our great country,” Truss remarked after a while.
At last, a note of mystery! Was this the end of the speech? She lingered for a time, as if even she did not know whether she had finished. In books of rhetoric yet to be written, this will deserve to be cited as a supreme example of the non-peroration.
“Imagine getting upstaged by Oliver Dowden,” my neighbour in the press room remarked.