The Sketch: Labour Party Conference: Master of the Labour hounds asks them to follow common scents

AS PHOTOGRAPHS of Labour's historic landmarks were flashed on to the podium backdrop and Fatboy Slim sang "We've come a long, long way", delegates began to clap along obediently, a reflexive rhythm section that half-concealed the truly important lyric, the one that was intended to wedge itself irretrievably in their frontal lobes: "I have to praise him like I should."

Mr Blair was about to address the not-entirely faithful and the party managers were happy to use anything, including subliminal suggestion, to nudge the clapometer up from respect to rapture. The delegates had no difficulty carrying out their duty at the beginning; Mr Blair looked a bit bashful about the applause and cheering that greeted his arrival and then ad-libbed with an intimate ease. "I can tell you this, there's never been a safer day for British foxes", he said, referring to the Countryside Alliance protest outside the hall, and delegates gave him an unforced laugh.

They liked his implicit promise not to wobble on the fox-hunting ban too, and Mr Blair used the sense of them and us generated by the encirclement of the conference hall to evoke a glow of solidarity he would later need to draw on. "Today's Tory party", he said contemptuously, "the party of fox-hunting, Pinochet and hereditary peers: the uneatable, the unspeakable and the unelectable." That was the easy stuff but Mr Blair made some much harder choices to make too.

His speech did not touch delegates as Gordon Brown's had done on Monday, but that was because it was less respectful of the collective nostalgia of the party, more determined to make it think about what, exactly, it had become. Mr Blair acknowledged the sense of disappointment felt by some, beginning with the Government's failures, not its achievements (though lingering considerably longer on the latter than the former). But, after a long opening section, in which he redefined the political battle of the next century as being between progressives and conservatives, rather than capitalism and socialism, he turned the Tory-bashing inwards. The enemy was within, he might have said - those forces of reaction who dug in for Clause Four and against linking welfare to work.

Earlier he had paid a passing homage to Neil Kinnock, parodying his famous anti-Militant speech made in the same hall in 1985; back then the accused howled back defiantly at their accuser - this time they took the rebuke in silence.

He offered them some sweeties for their forbearance: 16 to 18-year- olds who stayed at school would get cut-price deals at shops, theatres and cinemas, a potent incentive to skip school once you'd made sure that you'd got your smart card signed by the teacher. More substantially, he promised that within two years everyone would again be able to see an NHS dentist "just by phoning NHS Direct". This sounded a bit odd. Telephone dentistry? Would the pledge be met by talking patients through do-it-yourself extractions? Delegates didn't much care about the small print - the discoloured smile of cradle-to-grave health care was about to be given a polish and they were thrilled.

Shortly afterwards Mr Blair - the moralist with an unembarrassed passion for rules and order - showed his own teeth; it was time to move beyond "libertarian nonsense masquerading as freedom", he said scornfully. He had accused some of the delegates present of being left-wing conservatives and now he gave them the conservative law-and-order speech, complete with pledges on DNA databases and no compromise on drugs - "the most chilling, evil industry our modern world has to confront".

"I just hope it's like that at the end," Mr Blair had murmured after he was greeted at the podium by an ovation. It was, of course, but some of the warmth and anticipation had been replaced by something more like resigned admiration. The leader was not for turning; indeed he was already halfway over the horizon, beckoning for the party to advance. They really had no option but to follow him.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests