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UK Politics

Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Best new ideas in politics are still the old ideas


Top politicians are brilliant at making old ideas sound as good as new. Ed Miliband’s is One Nation. David Cameron proclaimed – 13 times – that Tory Britain would be a “land of opportunity” as if it hadn’t been deployed by practically every party leader in memory.

Which shouldn’t detract from his more original subtext: “The recovery’s much slower than we thought, so you need us well beyond the next election and maybe for ever!”

He didn’t put it that way, of course, saying instead that our “economy may be turning the corner” but anyone thinking the (Labour-bequeathed) crisis is “over, done, dealt with – “is living in fantasy land”.

There was a good joke: “If you saw those pictures of me on the beach this summer, you’ll know one thing. I’ve got the stomach for the fight.”

But the one about driving the millionth Mini off the production line and going the wrong way – “At least I turned right” – was in the “Don’t try this at home, Prime Minister, let  alone at a party conference” category.

And while Michael Gove beamed gamely, Cameron’s description of him as “a cross between Mr Chips and the Duracell bunny” failed the “Could this also be used by an opponent?” test.

Could a Moscow backlash follow his commendable rebuttal of a Putin official’s recent belittling of Britain? “The biggest-selling vodka brand in the world isn’t Russian, it’s British – Smirnoff – made in Fife…” was fair enough.

But in his list of British achievements he added that when the world “searched for equality, who gave women the vote?”

Which, though you hesitate to say so  while the Daily Mail is on the rampage against all things Marxist, overlooks the fact that (beside New Zealand and Finland) the revolutionary Soviet Union got there first. Even if democracy didn’t exactly take off afterwards.

Talking of which, Ed Miliband and Labour were a major, perhaps the major, theme.

He is no longer Mr Weak of last month, but Mr Red as in “Red Ed and his Blue Peter economy” which went down well in so far as anything did this week with this somewhat somnolent audience. 

But getting them to applaud social workers is a genuine first. And there was even news. Which was that the Tories were working towards a benefit-free world for the under-25s where everyone is “earning or learning”.

Except bank robbers and trustafarians, of course.