Delegates wield rubber stamp of firm leadership

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"A NEW LEADER is like having a baby," said one delegate, a middle- aged man. "You put the work in, and nine months later you see what you get." A sigh. "And nine months aren't up yet."

Yesterday's special Labour conference had its emotional high points, but its general tone seemed to be a dogged resistance to regarding the events in Methodist Central Hall in Westminster as a "defining moment".

Even as the gap was closing between Labour word and Labour deed, emotional release was slow to come. Mid-afternoon, in a corridor outside the main hall, a young woman delegate had decided that this was the defining moment for a Benson & Hedges. "Someone said to me, before I came," - puff, puff - "you'll be making history. I suppose so. Except I knew it was going to happen."

Making history should sneak up on you, take you by surprise. But six months of meetings and consultations (the big word of the afternoon) seemed to have left delegates with the feeling that history had already been made in another place, if at all.

In the street, at the entrance, the vendors of Militant, Socialist Outlook, Workers' Liberty and Socialist Worker formed a ceremonial arch of disapproval for conference-goers, and a man held up a sign that read: "Blue Labour, no thanks." Inside, Tony Blair moved to the stage with the air of a man very pleased with a new pair of shoes, and spoke movingly about freedom, justice, and snooker.

Among his colleagues milling around in the echoing marble corridors afterwards, trying to catch the eye of TV producers, or remove the foil tops of small UHT milk containers, the Clause IV defence tended to be phrased gently: "The old Clause IV was wonderful, beautifully written. I feel sorry just from the view of the sheer English of it. Not an emotional thing, just the way it was written. "

It was not impossible to find a kind of passion among the modernisers. Giles Radice MP, a long-time Clause IV sceptic, described the day as "a great moment in my political life. It is like the period of '64, that was the last great period of opportunity for the Labour Party. And now we have it again."

A more typical voice was Glenys Kinnock's. She admitted this was not the political highlight of her life: "You won't get that at a conference," she said, shocked at the thought. "I don't suppose there are more than half a dozen occasions at conferences, since I was in my twenties, that have been thoroughly memorable. It's sociable." She then said: "Hello, Ron ..." and added: "I think we should do a lot less of this kind of thing. People find it quite alienating - the acronyms, baring of souls, burying of hatchets."

And Clause IV? Public ownership ?

"When I was about 14 and I was campaigning in Anglesea with Cledwyn Hughes, a little man came out of his garage and said to me he'd never vote Labour, because Labour were planning on taking over little businesses and we'd take over his. I just took one look at this corrugated iron object he'd come from and said, 'You're kidding. Nobody's going to want to take that away.' And that's the only time anyone's ever mentioned it to me."

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