Sketch: Not quite 50 shades of cringe-fest – but close

The spookiest moment of the week came when Hattie had an out-of-body experience
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The Independent Online

Doing her end of conference turn Harriet Harman yesterday self deprecatingly described how she had unwisely been tempted to have a bop during the Brit awards, only to read a tweet the following day saying "Labour MP in dodgy dancing cringe-fest". But if this was not quite "Labour MP in dodgy conference speech cringe-fest" it came perilously close to it at times.

It went down a storm of course. Given her overall popularity and the delegates' euphoria at the way the week had gone, she could probably have got a standing ovation with readings from Whitaker's Almanack. But the (apparent) allusions to her –commendable – plans to appeal to women over 50 in the wake of the BBC's scandalous treatment of its older female employees, were, well, mixed.

Beginning by declaring in an old-woman voice: "I'm Hattie 62 from Camberwell and here's today's news in briefs" was probably, not the wisest choice. Confirming the news that she had read 50 Shades of Grey she joked that when asked if she had read "that book" about a "sado-masochistic relationship" featuring "dominant superior controlling a naive submissive, etc…" she had replied that "yes, of course she had read the coalition agreement". But then added: "Let's be honest, what most women want is not a man to tie them to bed but to empty the dishwasher while they sit back and watch The Great British Bake Off."

You had to imagine that this stuff was written by a young male speechwriter in her office – which she reminded the conference was exactly where and how Ed Miliband had started his political career. Even on the last, sentiment- packed, unity-obsessed, day of the conference, real politics occasionally intrudes before the singing of the "Red Flag" and "Jerusalem".

Stephen Twigg's speech, including an admirably joke-free dissection of Michael Gove's "elitist" and "outdated" education policies, was preceded by Joanne, a year 11 student at Paddington Academy who was even briefly heckled – "that happens at comprehensives too, you know" – when she eloquently described the school's arts curriculum. And Hattie from Camberwell herself, with a slap at Vince Cable, was clearly also warning colleagues who favour keeping the Lib-Dem lines open.

But the spookiest moment of the week was when Hattie had an out-of-body experience, falling under the supernatural control of the alien force that had terrorised her so often in the past.

Praising the party's general secretary Iain McNicol for his work over the year she uttered five words – obviously involuntarily since they were not in a script to which she otherwise stuck like a limpet – that could only have been generated remotely by the one man for whom they were a practically copyrighted conference catchphrase: "Thank you for what you do." True she did not utter them in a familiar Scottish growl, or lay strangely equal emphasis on each syllable. But while the lips and voice were her's, the words were unmistakeably Gordon Brown's.

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