Conference Sketch: He was ripe for slaughter, but victory was his even before a word was uttered

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The Independent Online

The Prime minister (so battered, so beleaguered) was given to us as a failing limb on a withering government. His credibility had gone, his policies were falling apart, his Chancellor was detaching himself, his allies had resigned or been fired or gone to have a lie-down.

The Prime minister (so battered, so beleaguered) was given to us as a failing limb on a withering government. His credibility had gone, his policies were falling apart, his Chancellor was detaching himself, his allies had resigned or been fired or gone to have a lie-down.

What fun we were going to have watching the public humiliation of England's finest. The conference was going to take him down into its grass roots and slaughter him. I told you we'd be disappointed. In the event, he won more easily than any of us could have imagined. He rolled them even before he appeared on stage.

That may be a personal record. Even before he showed himself he had won the day. Delegates! I hope you're ashamed of yourselves! The hall lights dimmed and the big screen started the rolling credits of the government.

Free fruit for six-to-nine-year-olds. More people in work since the industrial revolution. The lowest inflation since the Mesozoic era. The soundtrack from a pop group (you'll have to ask a specialist about that) singing a refrain: "What have you done today to make you feel proud?"

And the applause started and didn't stop for two full, fat minutes. When he walked in they gave him a standing ovation. At once. The double helix of Prime Minister and Chancellor is intact.

Every year, he produces a rhetorical surprise. This year it was an argument.

The conference isn't used to considering one of those. He led them by the nose through a historical analysis of the Labour party in government and opposition. It was interesting. His jokes were good too. His touch was impeccable. He even got away with saying: "I know the old top-down approach won't work any more." Where was the flying fruit? His paragraph on foundation hospitals was not merely applauded, it was cheered.

But I wonder if it was fair to illustrate his case with a boy being treated for cancer, as if his Government was the first to treat children for cancer. I'm not sure he should have referred to a letter from grieving parents criticising him for going to war. I'm not sure he should have presented himself as the poor victim of his own integrity. I'm certain he shouldn't have wiped away a tear from his eye.

Obviously, there was the rubbish we now take for granted; "hopes that were once Utopian becoming everyday". And: "I don't want the middle classes fighting to get out of the state system, I want them fighting to get into it."

While it's hard to be against this sort of thing, we should resist the discourse, if we can. Public spending went up 9 per cent last year and public outputs went up 2.4 per cent. For all the romantic rhetoric, national wealth is being destroyed faster than at any period in history.

Was there anything to remember? I caught enough Marx, and enough flattery of public service workers, and enough surging determination "to rebuild the public realm", to think he was making a calculated shift to the left, and that what seemed an almost recklessly brave speech might easily have been the opposite.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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