Simon Carr: Brown was denouncing the arrangements he himself put in place

The Sketch: A speech to save the dignity of Gordon's career

If Gordon had started his campaign with a speech like he made yesterday to young voters in London he might be more in the running here at the end. Mind you, if he'd started like that he'd be gone by now, ascended to take his place at the right hand of God.

It was, in the parlance, the speech of his life. It was his Gettysburg address. Change the tenses and it was the oration he'd like to be giving at his own memorial service. He has fought them on the beaches, by Jove, and he has never surrendered.

He had rhetoric, he had feeling, grandeur – and he had a certain raggedness in his voice that let us believe he really was the things he said. That's why you have to be careful of a great speech. Recalling the crowds on the US civil rights marches, he said: "No one was a spectator.... Unknown men and women who made history happen. People made history just by being there...."

And the audience knew he was talking about them. And when he bellowed: "You cannot humiliate the person who has pride," they knew he was talking about himself.

And then we had the candle, with another candle and the tens of thousands of candles lit from one flame. He was smoking. The audience was a fire hazard. "In the fight for fairness I am a friend, a partner, a brother." Or more accurately: Yea, a brother, amen.

"I want no child to suffer, to be abandoned, to be alone," he incanted to a question of children held under immigration laws. It was then that the cynics felt able to breathe again. He was denouncing, or lamenting the very arrangements he himself put in place.

And then we recalled the introduction to his speech. He'd been put on a chair to the side of the stage to be lectured – perhaps a little over confidently – by two officers of Citizens UK who were hosting the event.

Then a woman stepped up to speak in broken English. She gave her testimony (it was a gospel sort of format). The hours she worked. Her rising at 3.30am. How she couldn't afford the bus and had to bicycle in for hours.

She was a cleaner in the Treasury. She cleaned Gordon Brown's office.

A 14-year daughter and grand daughter of Treasury cleaners began on the same theme, but broke down. She was sobbing, she couldn't speak; there was a surge of sympathy coming out of the audience, the "ahhhs", the comforting applause. God knows what Gordon's secret microphone was picking up.

And so, he goes on to give a speech that he will always be able to recall as having saved the dignity of his career, a speech about fairness, justice and "making a difference". They are amazing. And so, I suppose, are we.