Tony Blair has never spoken to the gathered ranks of the Labour Party, and he won't this afternoon. He will talk over their heads to the voters of Middle England. But imagine if he could seal off the hall, banish the cameras and speak directly and exclusively to the party he leads.
That would give him the chance to tell the party for the first time that he really is one of them. Blair doesn't talk about his progressive policies because he believes that there is no political market for this in Britain, and that any statement of leftish intent will cause power to drain away. So, in addition to (much-needed) stealth taxes under the current government, we have had - at best - stealth progressivism.
Blairism has been a progressive movement without candour, a governing force that has redistributed wealth more than the Wilson or Callaghan governments, but has never talked openly about its mission. As a result, swaths of Labour members have now concluded that Tony Blair really is the strangest Tory ever sold. They just don't believe that this has in fact been a good Labour government.
In that secured room, just Tony and the Labour Party, the Prime Minister might says something like this: "Friends. (Pause. Adopts cheeky grin.) Comrades. No, but seriously. I've come here for nearly 10 conferences as leader, and I've given you some nice, vaguely aspirational phrases. Remember 'A New Britain'? 'The forces of conservatism'? 'At our best when at our boldest'? No, me neither. So this year, I'm going to try something different. Facts. I'm going to prove that even if you don't love me, you ought to like me a bit more.
"On this planet today, one billion people will survive on less than a dollar. The Labour Party is a crusade against poverty or it is nothing. So what have I done? I have doubled - yes, doubled - our international aid budget. No other country on earth has increased its aid to the destitute for the last six years consistently - except Britain.
"We don't want our aid programme to be a sticking plaster. So we are the only government in the developed world - ask the aid agencies - that has consistently made the case at summit after summit for slashing the barriers that are crippling the developing world and taking two dollars in lost trade for every dollar we give. Jacques Chirac said, "I have never been spoken to so rudely in my life," when I pointed out the deaths his farmers were causing in Africa. We're making slow progress - too slow - but a Labour government is out there, making the case.
"We don't just care about poverty abroad. Our massive programme of tax credits and rebates has put money directly into the pockets of the working poor. A single mum working part-time gets a minimum wage not of £4.20 but of £12 an hour after she has received our top-ups. Go and tell her there's no difference between Labour and Tory. We have lifted 400,000 children out of poverty so far, not by endlessly redefining poverty in the Tory way, but by directly redistributing wealth to the poor.
"We have flooded the public services with money - an incredible £100bn in our plan for the second term. This is so much that many health authorities don't know what to do with all the extra cash. And that has been raised, I might add, not just through growth but through tax increases. The symbolic move of increasing income tax to 50 per cent for the highest bracket would raise £3bn; we have raised tens of billions through smarter, quieter increases.
"Now, I know that when I say 'foreign policy' you will lean back in your seats. But whatever you think about Bush, don't you want our party to be on the same side as the Iraqi people? Last week, 66 per cent of them told Gallup that they thought the current difficulties were a price worth paying to be rid of Saddam. I for one stand in solidarity with them.
"And if you really think I blindly follow Bush, let's talk about two of our greatest foreign policy achievements, opposed every step of the way by the neo-cons. I have been one of the main cheerleaders for the International Criminal Court, because I believe that if you commit genocide, wherever you are and whoever you are, you should be following Milosevic to The Hague.
"I have been fighting relentlessly for the Kyoto agreement. The Americans say it's a load of rubbish. I keep telling them that it doesn't go far enough - that Kyoto wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by just 2 per cent, whereas we need a cut of 60 per cent by 2050 to bring global warming under control.
"I'm running out of time, and I haven't even mentioned our massive strides towards gay equality, greatly expanding SureStart so that poor kids don't fall behind before they even start school, and the destruction of the Conservative Party. Even the two things you are most angry about are progressive: we want foundation hospitals so the NHS can become efficient enough to remain free at the point of use, and we want top-up fees so we can continue to expand higher education beyond a tiny élite.
"Now, remind me: what was that you were saying about me being a Tory?"Reuse content