Conference Sketch: Old Labour 27, New Labour 1. But still Chancellor rides two horses

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Twenty-seven times in the first three pages of his speech the Chancellor's tongue lovingly curled around the word "Labour". The "Labour government", implementing "Labour policies" based on "Labour values". To use his own words from the bottom of page two: "Was this by accident? Was it just by chance?" Is the Pope, perchance, a protestant?

He did use the words New Labour once, possibly to tease the Prime Minister.

But textual analysis made it clear he was saying "new Labour" not "New Labour". "It is because we have taken not the old Tory road but this new Labour road ...". It was nice to be able to smile at something in Mr Brown's speech. The power, the passion, the performance, it was unbearable. You weren't in the front row. It was like a Led Zeppelin concert with the speakers turned up to 11. You think it unlikely Robert Plant would be singing about his symmetrical inflation target? Well, it's equally unlikely a Labour Chancellor would too, so that's a measure of Gordon Brown's greatness. He can pitch his good, solid, conservative admiration of stability, prudence and long term fiscal rules as Old Labour fundamentalism.

If you can't ride two horses, as the old saying goes, you shouldn't be in the circus.

They loved it, of course, how disappointing they are. The more you believe in politicians the more you will be disappointed. It's a law. If you believed, for instance, that the Prime Minister was in serious trouble from his left and there was going to be a rebellion - you will be even more bitterly disappointed than usual. There's a reasonable chance they'll get away with foundation hospitals, even.

How? The Chancellor's speech scotched the opposition. Twenty-seven times invoking the spirit, or perhaps the ghost, of Old Labour, he pledged that his public spending would continue forever, regardless of the state of public revenues. A great chain of compassion would be forged from our sense of fairness and decency and frail pensioners would be linked to Third World babies by hospitals that weren't run for profit or staffed by two-tier workers with unreliable pension arrangements because their lifelong learning skills uptake was increasing their productivity to world-class levels in the 21st century, manufacturing war against poverty which we're pretty sure we're going to win, this time, if the right hope of undiminished idealism can be inspired.

You can't be more Labour than that. But, at the same time, he restated his commitment to the reform process. Hospital reform. Regional reform. Economic reform. Stability pact reform. Higher education funding reform. Reform reform. Twenty-five mentions of reform all told.

Those that believe things politicians say would assume Mr Brown had wholeheartedly committed to the reform process. In this case, they may be right. For the Prime Minister has pledged reform, and his Chancellor will support him - the survival of both depends on it.

Whether Mr Brown and Mr Blair like each other or not, they fill in each other's deficiencies. Mr Brown is a bit boring and a bit bonkers and not very likeable but he has substance. Mr Blair may be a bit changeable and mysterious - or flaky, as crueller observers than myself have said - but he has terrific charm. He sells what Mr Brown wants sold. The one needs the other as the front end of a pantomime horse needs the back end.

Actually, they deserve a more elevated image than that, they are the DNA of the Government after all. They are a double helix. They are separate but dependent. Their productive capacity depends absolutely on their twisting, invisible, mutually regarding, inward-facing, intensely private relationship. As Mr Brown's speech so eloquently revealed.