Labour Conference: Crash, bang, wallop finish

The Sketch
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The Independent Online
A ROGUE elephant was caged behind the stage at the Winter Gardens while the Labour Party listened to a farewell speech by "Lord" Tom Sawyer.

As the outgoing general secretary finished his address, he paid tribute toJohn Prescott. At the mention of his name, the Deputy Prime Minister broke from the shackles and charged into the rostrum to roar and trumpet through a barnstorming speech.

A packed conference was brought to a triumphant conclusion by Mr Prescott using every trick in the book - and many others that weren't - as he perfected his one-man laughter show. Blackpool is known for its line in big-time stand-up comedians. None could match the Prescott routine.

Within seconds he had trampled over the glass autocue. "Get rid of this thing," he stormed. The Rubik cube backdrop flashed multi-coloured before settling on imperial purple. "I don't like that; change it," he snarled. Green was tried. "No, something else." Bright red appeared and he was satisfied. In his first self-deprecating joke he described Mr Blair addressing him as "Prescott", saying that "with his background that's how he talks to people like me".

Mr Blair's recent speech on the Third Way was on sale in the conference bookshop, he said. It was a best-seller "but they really must take it out of the mystery section".

Mr Prescott has licence to say anything he likes (the only person in the Labour Party to have this freedom) and no bleepers or "clap now" cues are necessary to get the audience to respond. He even lamented the loss of Dennis Skinner from the NEC. "A good party man, a powerful voice for ordinary people and I hope he will be back soon."

Like all good comedians he used props. Reminding the conference of the need for the Government to achieve the pledges made before the last election, he pulled out of his top pocket the famous pledge card with its five promises on health, education, crime, jobs and the economy.

Then came the turn of the Tories for the Prescott knock about. He hacked into William Hague, describing him as the invisible man of politics. "The only time his poll rating went up was when he was on holiday."

This time the audience went ballistic but Mr Prescott had only dug the knife in, he had yet to twist it. "Hague set off on his listening tour. He wanted to listen to Britain but Britain didn't want to talk to him."

Mr Prescott thundered out yet more vitriol against the Shadow Cabinet and railed about "these weird bonding sessions ... with their Val Doonican pullovers".

He brought the house down when he said that the Tory party boss Archie Norman - "the man from Asda" - leads them in role-playing. "John Redwood plays a human being," he said.

The speech was punctuated with more than 30 separate bursts of applause. My battery-operated clap-ometer hit the red on the decibel count six times.

Then he asked the conference if anyone had recruited a new party member this week. "I recruited one last night - he's a waiter so one day he could be Deputy Leader - so welcome Christopher Murphy." Up to the rostrum came Christopher, to be presented with his membership card.

When Mr Prescott finished, the roof of the Winter Gardens had almost been blown off and my clapo-meter was broken.