DUNCAN BARKES Here’s a good joke: the Lib Dems, after a grim conference

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Last week’s Liberal Democrat conference confirmed to me that the party has become a joke. With a poll rating barely in double figures, the Lib Dems have become a busted flush.

The UK’s media descended on Birmingham to watch one part of the coalition government demonstrate how, since it sold its soul for a whiff of power, it has become utterly rudderless.

We were treated to the sight of leader Nick Clegg desperately trying to convince delegates there are daily arguments over policy between him and the Tories and that Lib Dem influence is having a positive effect on the country. Hmmm.

Business secretary Vince Cable appeared to forget he was in government, giving an interview about the economy that did nothing to inspire confidence. I expect the man in charge of business to outline how he is going to kick-start the economy, not shrug his shoulders and say simply that recession is looming again.

Then we have the Chris Huhne, the energy secretary. A man so hell-bent on introducing his green taxes that it makes you wonder if he breathes the same air as the rest of us.

There may well be extra money sloshing about on Planet Huhne, but in the real world we are already under the cosh and simply cannot afford to pay any more taxes, green or indeed any colour.

Aside from Clegg, Cable and Huhne, a trio who would not look out of place in an episode of Last of the Summer Wine, we were also treated to numerous interviews and pictures of other party members who all still seem shell-shocked to be in government.

On the face of it, all should be rosy for the Liberal Democrats. Against all odds they have a place in government and with it an enhanced awareness of their party and some of its senior members.

But public perception puts it in intensive care. A poll revealed that 63 per cent of people ‘do not see the point of the Liberal Democrats’. This is pretty brutal stuff.

As someone who enjoys politics, I was wondering if Clegg and co could produce a blinder of a conference last week and demonstrate that the Lib Dems are a serious political party whose time in government has strengthened it.

But it was not to be. The same old faces trotted out tired old rhetoric, while still throwing the brick-bats at the government they conveniently forget they are still part of. The Liberal Democrats have zero credibility left. They are led by a man who sold out the moment the tantalising prospect of becoming deputy PM came within his grasp.

The Liberal Democrat party had a golden opportunity to make its political mark. I say they’ve blown it.