The Labour Party in Blackpool: Bambi is killed off by roar of the lion king

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THE Labour leader has become burdened - because of his fluffy looks - with the nickname 'Bambi'. It so happens, however, that on Friday a new Disney cartoon opens in Britain. Called The Lion King, it is the story of Simba, a young lion cub who, after the death of the monarch of the leonine clan, grows up to restore the glory of his nation.

There is a touching scene in which Simba learns to roar. To win a general election, Tony Blair needs to be less Bambi and more Simba. Yesterday he set out to show that he had learnt to roar.

Traditionally, the leader's speech is preceded by merit awards to geriatric comrades. Previous Labour leaders - Neil Kinnock in particular - were likely to be prompted to feelings of guilt by these unrepentant lefties: ghosts of their own past socialism. For Mr Blair, though, these people must have been a form of science fiction.

'As a child, I saw Keir Hardie,' recalled Irene, aged 94. 'He was wearing the inevitable cloth cap that denoted him as a member of the working class. . .'

When Irene had got her gong, Blair stood up to speak, wearing the inevitable dark blue suit and sedately patterned tie that denotes him as the leader of the modern Labour Party. There was a 27-second semi-standing ovation before he was able to begin speaking. It was standing room only. About the speech, it must be said that if this was Bambi, it was an X-certificate version. Indeed, the appropriate Disney comparison probably was the Lion King.

Blair was in roaring form. As a piece of oratory, his performance was remarkable for its vocal stamina - only two slightly slurred words in an address of 68 minutes - and its tone of controlled anger.

The delivery was a great surprise to anyone who feared that he was too intellectually scrupulous for populist demagoguery. Throughout the speech, he used 'Tory', almost Ben Elton-style, as a simple noun of abuse.

In terms of language, the speech dispensed, as expected, with the traditional conference vocative of 'comrades', substituting 'friends' or 'colleagues'. However, Socialism - also widely tipped for the vocabulary scrapheap - made several appearances.

The new Labour leader's well- known Christian credentials inevitably make tempting the metaphor of preaching, but there was a definite sermonic feel to his speech. North Sea oil was 'God- given'. One phrase - 'These are our words. This is my Socialism' - sounded deliberately, and startlingly, eucharistic.

If the speech was miscalculated at all, it was that it had the urgency and passion of an eve-of- election address, and the election is at least two years away. But the audience stood and cheered for six minutes: a length more normally associated with Tory conference crowds.

Bambi was dead, killed off by Tony Blair's graceful rage.