Labour conference diary

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* Tony Blair was the missing man in the build-up to Gordon Brown's big speech yesterday, which jumped from Labour's 1997 election victory to Mr Brown's premiership without mentioning that other fellow who won the three elections. Barack Obama was also shown praising the Prime Minister, but in an apparent lapse of protocol and electoral impartiality, his close rival John McCain was nowhere to be seen.

* Bizarrely, cabinet ministers are harking back to the good old days of the Thatcher government to keep their spirits up. They have been told to remind demoralised delegates at every turn that the Iron Lady lagged third in the polls in 1981 and still came back to win a 144-seat majority two years later (they ignore the Falklands war). Yesterday Jack Straw was on that theme, dismissing Labour's troubles as normal mid-term blues and claiming that previous governments had recovered from such a low point. Fact: election experts say that no government has ever dug itself out of such a deep hole to come back and win a general election.

* Posters are declaring "Hogwarts for Labour" after the Harry Potter author JK Rowling gave £1m to the party at the start of the week. One minister joked: "We are going to reduce the voting age to 12." Presumably they are hoping for some magic to help them win.

* Alastair Campbell's commitment to his fourth-term campaign has its limits. He left the conference last night to go to watch his beloved Burnley play Fulham.

* Labour seems to think the map of the world is still red from the days of empire. Yesterday afternoon the party held a question-and-answer session for international visitors to the conference in Manchester. The venue – the unfortunately named Colony Restaurant.

* Alistair Darling has told friends he was genuinely surprised by the length of his standing ovation, which ran to 66 seconds, beating the 57 seconds awarded to putative leader-in-waiting David Miliband. "I just wanted it to last until I sat down," he confided.

* Agenda: Speech by Alan Johnson, Health Secretary, Speech by Ed Balls, Children's Secretary, Conference closes with speech by Harriet Harman, deputy leader.