I had scarcely arrived in Brighton for Labour’s last pre-election conference than a succession of party veterans had pinned me to the nearest wall to explain why the party is doomed - or why it is not.
Typical of the confusion was the activist who despises Gordon Brown as much as he used to despise Tony Blair. (As Brown’s reputation dives why is Blair’s not recovering? asks another: a good question.)
Until it happens otherwise I am prepared to accept at face value Cameron’s assurance he will protect the NHS
Being pro-European my chum wanted Angela Merkel’s Tories to win that night’s German elections (as they did). He was then going to campaign for a Lib-Lab merger.
Confused? Then obviously you understand the situation as well as anyone else as Britain’s 12 year Labour government appears to move towards the bed for the terminally ill, the one at the end of the ward by the exit.
Not everyone sees it this way, of course, certainly not Gordon “I don’t roll over” Brown, Lord Mandelson or, for that matter, health secretary Andy Burnham, the man who scored Labour’s only goal in their annual conference football match with the press, in which they were defeated 5-1.
A core loyalist, the health secretary (the minister most activists wanted to be photographed with, according to some reports) selflessly provided the prime minister with some substance - that new cancer pledge - with which to pad out Tuesday’s big speech.
There have been flickers of “Operation Fightback” throughout Labour’s week by the sea, buttressed by the hunch that voters don’t really trust David Cameron and George Osborne. But it has been hard not to agree with chancellor Alistair Darling’s complaint that key players on the team have “lost the will to live”.
Mr Burnham’s conference speech on Wednesday was billed as focusing hard on the risks to the NHS under the Tories. I am sure he means it and also that some bad things may happen to staff and services - especially staff - under health secretary Andrew Lansley that would not happen if Handy Andy remains in charge.
But until it happens otherwise I am prepared to accept at face value Cameron’s assurance he will protect the NHS. Polls suggest most voters do too, although they will watch closely. In Brighton, Unison’s Dave Prentis had no doubts: the Cameroons are “the same class as the bankers” and will destroy jobs in health and education to look after their own.
All of which makes it harder to give undivided attention to this week’s Brown-Burnham pledge to voters that suspected cancer patients are to get a guarantee of access to a specialist within a week - initially two weeks - of suspicion coming to light. Reporters were briefed that Burnham has diverted money earmarked for capital projects to buy diagnostic equipment which would enable doctors to screen more patients more rapidly. Ultrasound, CT scans, MRI checks - up to a million more could save 10,000 lives a year.
Splendid, splendid, provided the damage to capital investment elsewhere does not outweigh the benefit of shorter waits. One of the more troubling allegations I heard on the fringe of the Lib Dem conference down the coast was that pharmaceutical firms push chemotherapy for cancer patients as a more lucrative alternative to radiotherapy where capital costs are high, but running costs lower.
I realise different therapies are appropriate to different cancers - but it was a cancer patient who told me. True or false?
Either way we are talking a five year timeframe for Brown’s £1bn pledge to become reality. Who believes that a Labour health secretary will be in charge then - or knows what state the public finances will be in by 2015?
Labour promises to halve the debt mountain by then, the Tories to do even better. Ouch.