Simon Carr: A few signs of life still flutter as again Gordon shows how it's all done

Sketch: It's an observable fact that the further politicians drift from power the nicer they become
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Ten years ago almost to the day, we were here on the same corner of the conference centre. What a thrilling scene it was. We were all young, strong and full of promise. Young Tony with the smile. Gordon with the gravel. And everyone was caught up in it. It was one of "Blair's most testing conference yet" as each conference successively was.

The streets were seething, the halls were heaving. Placards, protests, police. A clattering helicopter hovered low overhead as news crews shouldered their way through the queues like heavily armed mercenaries. A police dog repeatedly lunged, barking madly at civilians. It was almost as if people were involved in the political process.

How very different it was yesterday on that drowsy, sun-soaked, holiday-making afternoon. Three or four leafleteers hardly had the energy to hand out their fringe material. No one went into the hall. Outside, police heavily outnumbered people.

Is Labour exhausted? They must be dead on their feet. But if they look too lifeless the vultures start circling for a closer look. So the conference purpose is to manufacture signs of life.

Gordon knows how to do that, at least he is experienced there. A launch, two relaunches, three fightbacks and four last chances to make "the speech of his life"; he's done it all before and he only has to do it once again.

But it's an observable fact that the further politicians drift from power the nicer they become. John Cruddas and James Purnell addressed a Fabian meeting with what passes for 18th-century courtesy in these last days of the ancien régime.

Mutual respect. Intelligent debate, that's what they wanted. What losers. I mean that in the nicest possible way. John Cruddas has a winning way about himself, in everything except elections. "The only reason I stood for deputy was that I wouldn't win," he said. "It was about the debate."

He has a sweet nature, you see. But would he – as someone who is talked up as a possible leader – have the range of abilities to keep Labour coalition together? Not by himself, obviously, but with James Purnell? They make a nice couple. One of them quoted Mill, the other used Wittgenstein in a humorous comparison. That's all good.

But leadership? That mysterious quality; do either have the thing which makes people want to follow? When Purnell talks in that sulky, Caroline Flint way, do you feel reached-into? How about Cruddas? Intelligent, interesting, easy as he is. Do you see him inspiring die-in-a-ditch passion in his supporters?

When you put them up against the Prime Minister, up to what part of his anatomy do they measure?

So they'll all soldier on to the end. Blitz spirit. They'll pull through. As long as it's the London Blitz. But with Gordon's luck it might be Dresden.