Later today, David Cameron will lead the Tory Party in a rousing chorus of "Cum-By-Ya" - or hum some equally intellectually substantial mood-music - and the press will moisten and cheer at the creation of this electable new brand of Tory Lite. In the midst of a conference, where Cameron's most substantial commitment so far has been a radical pro-sunshine policy ("Let the sunshine win!" he called on Sunday), it is easy to forget the inches of real difference that lie between our main political parties.
Here's one. In a few days, the British minimum wage rises by 30p an hour. It doesn't sound like much - roughly the cost of a pint of milk - but to more than a million people, it will add up to a wage increase of pounds 625 a year. When you earn just pounds 11,000, that's the difference between your kids getting to go on holiday this summer or not. Just over a year ago, David Cameron vehemently opposed this increase, along with the massed blue ranks of the Tories who will cheer him today. Even now, he is silent about whether he supports Labour's inflation-beating increases.
If you look through the trickle of Tory policy papers under Cameron - and yes, I really am that sad - you will find dozens of pin-pricks like this in the bright bouncy castle he is trying to coax us all into. In the very week he was urging the British public to "hug a hoodie", Cameron voted against the Government's allocation of hard cash to build more youth clubs where these real, non- symbolic hoodies could stay out of trouble.
He then dismissed the very programme designed to stop kids sinking into hoodiedom, SureStart, as "a microcosm of government failure". While Cameron's public face was eager to show he is concerned about marginalised kids, his hard policies showed that it was merely a PR stunt. Calling for ahug costs nothing and means nothing. Calling for cash for youth clubs and SureStart centres does.
Or look at Cameron's most rousing tune - concern about global warming. He has focused almost all his rhetoric on encouraging people to make voluntary changes in their private lifestyles, like shifting your electricity bill to a renewable supplier. I'm in favour of those changes too, but politicians are in a position actually to force us to change, through legislation. On that, Cameron has conspicuously failed. In his very first speech as Tory party leader last year, he said Britain needed not mandatory cutbacks on planes and cars but the opposite: "a concerted programme of road-building", a guarantee of soaring emissions and rising CO2. (Incredibly, yesterday, the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne told this newspaper, "We're not committed to any road-building programme I know of." Either Osborne doesn't read Cameron's speeches, or Cameron's pledges simply melt into air).
Used properly, political symbols can be a simple, distilled way to communicate change. Look at Tony Blair's ditching of Clause Four. In itself, it was meaningless - nobody took the clause's nationalise- everything logic seriously - but it did indicate a genuine evolution. Cameron's symbols, by contrast, are not designed to draw attention to his parties' policies, but to distract from them. Hug a hoodie but cut government support for them' hug a husky, but build more roads' express a special concern for the disabled, but ignore the fact you vote to deny flexitime to parents of disabled kids' call for your party to "stand up to big business" but fly to India to open a factory for one of your party's billionaire funders.
There have been some genuine shifts under Cameron. …