No-one ever picked up a newspaper without a sense of expectation said GK Chesterton, and no-one ever put one down without a sense of disappointment. Ditto for British political party conferences, which are in full swing this month. They all take place in dying seaside towns – for the plethora of hotel rooms available in off-season – and the forlorn torpor of Blackpool or Bournemouth tends to match the sense of slow death of the modern political system.

It’s Labour’s turn this week – after a concerted attempt by the leadership to change the rules so that even the minimal degree of debate hitherto on offer was removed. That was resisted, but it’s hard to know why the rank and file bothered – there hasn’t been a real ding-dong battle on policy for many a year, save for the time when octogenarian Wolfgang Walther heckled Mr Tony’s defence of Iraq and was escorted out by Esplanade Hotel style bouncers and threatened with the Prevention of Terrorism Act (he’s now on the National Executive Committee).

The headline announcement so far is from defence secretary, the aptly named Des Browne, who confirmed that the British retreat from Iraq will soon be total, with a full pull-out from Basra as, ha-ha, the Iraqi forces take full responsibility for the gang-run de facto ministate the area is about to become.

But that was always going to happen, as was Gordon Brown’s speech in which he leant on the notion of Britishness – using the term 80 times – both as a way of deflecting anti-Scottish feeling against him from the shires, and because he genuinely seems to believe in the notion of a “progressive patriotism” (as advanced by commentators such as David Goodhart of Prospect) as something other than a ludicrous confection of cultural engineering.

No the real biggie was as buried as this lead is — David Miliband’s announcement that the proposed EU Constitution “Treaty” version would be ratified by parliament rather than by public referendum. The Constitution was going to be taken to a referendum in 2006 — but then the French and Dutch voted it down, and it was all over. British ratification is the lynch pin of progress to the next stage of European integration — and the fact that it won’t be taken to a public vote pretty much marks the end of the 50 year project of marching to ever greater stages of integration, culminating in the creation of a fully federal Europe.

Miliband’s announcement, together with Brown’s Britishness mantra, suggest that the rug is being very visibly pulled from under any notion of ever greater union. And with other leaders like Poland’s Dead Ringersesque Kascinzyki twins talking about Polishness and cutting up rough, today marks the point at which Europe starts to go in a substantially different direction.

That was the actual event of the conference – and even that was a done deal. Perhaps they should just rough up a few OAPs to make it interesting?