The Labour Party in Blackpool: How to keep your cliche fresh: On the Front

IT'S the Conference Cliche Clinic. The corner where we test those conference regulars for freshness.

'Active government', as in 'Labour stands for . . .' (submitted by John Smith, Tuesday). Not a cliche. Just something Tory speechwriters will enjoy beating Smith over the head with next week. It will be a cliche in about 10 days.

'Nye Bevan once said . . .' plus cod Welsh accent (optional). This is a cliche and guaranteed turn-off, unless followed by a half-decent anecdote. For example, Barbara Castle, Tuesday. 'Nye Bevan once said to a young speaker who was having problems with a microphone at a meeting: 'If the loudspeaker failed more often I wouldn't be in the troubles I'm in now. . .'.' Incidentally, 'Churchill once said . . .' is also a cliche, and is used much more often here than is Nye Bevan.

Flat cap, as worn by Tom Sawyer, deputy general secretary of Nupe, at Tuesday night's Tribune rally. An ex-cliche. Now just charming. Like a red rose in the lapel.

'John's speech was really good.' Cliche. Untrue. Avoid using it unless, with perfect timing, you add as Tony Banks did on Tuesday night: 'It was . . . sensible shoes.'

'I have a great deal of sympathy with the man who wrote that he looked forward to the day when the last king has been strangled with the entrails of the last priest.' Banks again. Though this is obviously old, it is not a cliche.

'I vowed I wouldn't be tasteless at conference this year, but unlike Big Dave Mellor I couldn't keep it up.' On second thoughts, Banks is a cliche on legs.

'Let me be absolutely clear. . .' Everyone says this. It's because market researchers have discovered that clarity is one of the things people like in politicians.

'And all of us owe the same debt of gratitude to Glenys . . .' John Smith, Tuesday. Not a cliche, just boring Labour party sentimentalism.

The tyranny of three. On Monday Alan Johnson of the Union of Communication Workers complained: 'In conference rhetoric you can't make two points, you can't make four, you must make three.' He's right, but why must you? It's the most mind- numbing cliche of debate. 'Vote for composite 28,' the next speaker said, 'We need it, the party needs it, the whole nation needs it.' But do they need it in triplicate? 'Just two points I maybe wanted to make . . ,' Dawn Primarolo said on Tuesday, 'Or maybe more than two . . .' See? A slave to the three.

'We take on board the criticisms you have made.' Eddie Haigh of the NEC. Oh yeah?

Dark ties with subdued floral motif. (John Smith, David Blunkett, John Prescott, Larry Whitty et al). Very hackneyed. But infinitely preferable to the electric blue number with day-glo exploding spaceships that squats on Austin Mitchell's shirtfront.

The. As in 'the Conference'. Not a cliche, but a missing, presumed lost definite article. Conference is believed to save 19 minutes in the week through its omission, but revisionist elements feel that that time could be better spent.

The smiles of the staff on the British Airways stand. We've seen them all before, on aeroplanes, after they've told you off during take-off.

T-shirts that say 'Don't blame me. I voted Labour.' Smug and boring, and liable to get the wearer a punch on the nose from those who think they should read 'Blame me. I failed to get Labour elected.'

'Not all Conservatives are evil in every respect.' (Peter Kellner, addressing a meeting on inter-party talks). This is an original thought.

Next week: Those Terrible Tory Tropes.

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