THE pensioners who have flocked here for the Blackpool Illuminations found the famous seafront lit up spectacularly this year.

But Liberal Democrat delegates hoping to be similarly illuminated by Charles Kennedy's plans for their party's future were left in the dark.

The yearning all week on the conference floor was for the laidback leader to end his silence and show who was the boss. Would Charlie deliver?

Well, there was no doubt he came out fighting. The speech had been hurridly rewritten after a scathing verdict by a TV programme on his performance as leader.

The behind-the-scenes snipers were dismissed as puffed up and petty and no match for the man who delivered a record 62 MPs back in May.

Turning to the critical question of leadership style, Mr Kennedy admitted that, for six years, he had been a boss who liked to "take stock and listen".

And then, finally, he revealed his secret for future success - to carry on exactly as he has before.

His recipe for "good political leadership" was, it turned out, not to lead, but to be "wise enough to know when it's time to listen".

There was a half-hearted attempt to defend the unpopular policies defeated this week, over selling off the Royal Mail and capping the Brussels budget. But there was no explanation of why they were necessary, no sense they really were his policies rather than those of the right-wingers surrounding him.

There was passion when Mr Kennedy explained his vision of a society that "provides our pensioners with dignity" and "where our streets are free from fear".

But too often he was let down by his infuriating tendency to drag out sentences by adding unnecessary adjectives and qualifications.

Paragraphs with only ten words in the text handed out in advance mysteriously had twice that number when spoken from the podium.

Mr Kennedy will have left Blackpool in no doubt that his followers have no wish to be turned into "nice Tories".

But those followers will have departed none the wiser about exactly where he wants to take he party.