I haven't spoken to a single representative here at the conference who has welcomed, without reservation, the child benefit announcement yesterday. To a man and a woman they all think the principle of taking benefits away from top rate taxpayers is correct, but like me, they all believe that the anomalies need to be sorted out - and sorted out quickly. It's no good Cabinet Ministers going on the airwaves pretending that everything is sorted and that all is sweetness and light. Any fool can see that there are issues to be resolved here. David Cameron has an acute pair of political nostrils. And if he is sniffing the wind this morning I think I know what he will smell.
Ignoring the detail for a moment, I think it is worth asking how we got to this point, because the whole thing has come as a very unpleasant surprise. The hallmark of the first six months of the coalition has been the rigour of the policy formation process. Policy is tested again and again between the coalition partners. You have to ask if that happened here, because it would appear not. Good policy is tested and tested and tested again - not just for the political consequences, but to see if it is fair and will work.
We all know there will always be winners and losers in any reform of the welfare state. It goes with the territory. But you have to be explain to losers why they are losing out and the reasons for it. Most people will understand, if they can see both a logic in the argument and an inherent fairness. What they won't understand is a policy which is transparently unfair and full of anomalies.
Another issue here is aspiration. Everyone on £35,000 wants to earn £44,000. But it will no longer be in their interests to do so. Indeed, they will be asking their employer not to give them a pay rise which takes them into the 40% tax bracket. Madness.
Finally, we must not lose sight of the real issue here. It is economic madness to give benefits to people who don't need them. I don't believe anyone capable of paying the 40% rate of tax should be entitled to claim ANY benefit at all. Remember, that's a takehome pay of £3,000 a month or not far off. Why on earth should a basic rate taxpayer on £20,000 a year contribute to benefits for someone earning more than £40,000? Indeed, why should a Mum earning £12,000 a year on a supermarket checkout contribute to it, either?
I don't think there are many defenders for universal child benefit any longer. And those that do defend it need to examine their motives for doing so. But that should not mean that the coalition should view this as an easy political hit. I agree they have the right policy, but they also need to get the detail of it right, and demonstrate a willingness to do so. At the moment, we are very far from that place.