Great speech, even second time round

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Watching Tony Blair's Blackpool speech on the television, I was gripped by a frisson of deja vu. Surely I had heard this speech before, at another time and another place, with another 40-something politician delivering the words? Were not many of the phrases, the structure, the rhetorical devices used, the whole tone, remarkably close to the acceptance speech given by Bill Clinton to the Democratic Convention at Madison Square Garden, New York, in July 1992?

Indeed they were. If you compare (see below) the text of Mr Clinton's speech, with Mr Blair's the similarities are striking. Let us be clear: we are not talking plagiarism here. This is not (quite) a reversal of the wholesale pillaging of Neil Kinnock's speeches by the United States politician Joe Biden during the 1988 presidential campaign. The only phrase directly lifted is Mr Blair's "covenant with the British people", clearly modelled on the soon-to-be-President's "New Covenant" for the American people (something Mr Clinton has hardly mentioned since). But the arguments used are so similar that one could transpose whole paragraphs without doing violence to the sense or tone of either speech. "We offer our people a new choice based on old values." No, that's not Blair, it's Clinton. "Each generation doing better than the last. The heritage of hope from parents to their children ... " No, that's not Clinton, it's Blair. Clinton offers: "Old-fashioned Americans for a new time. Opportunity. Responsibility. Community." Blair calls for: "A society of opportunity. A society of responsibility ..."

At the point of the speeches, the two men were at precisely the same point in their respective election cycles. Bill Clinton on 16 July 1992 was presenting himself as: a) the moderate, reforming enterprise-oriented saviour of a party which had lost touch with its electorate and b) the real agent of change to sweep away an ineffectual conservative leader who had won the previous election by posing as a gentler version of the tooth-and-claw conservativism of the Eighties.