Simon Carr: In the Tory tradition, Hague crushed Clegg with his compliments

Sketch: Politeness: compared with sarcasm, abuse, contempt – it is lethal

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The Independent Online

That was a very fine tears-and-sweat speech from William Hague. I could have done with just a little bit more blood – but I have special needs that way. And there's always Osborne tomorrow.

Nonetheless, my inner rabble was roused – certainly to the extent of staying awake to the end.

It's the kick-off slot – and Hague's presence has a certain weight and resonance these days. It's what experience – which is another word for disappointment – gives you. Ten years after his complete failure to make an impression on Tony Blair here he is, still at his post. Will Ed Miliband be in the same slot in 2025, after a complete failure to make an impression on David Cameron? I'm not sure I'll be there to say "I told you so".

There were some unkind things said about Labour – that considering their spending plans they are the very essence of "a something for nothing party". And a remark about Gordon's promised extra spending – "the money never existed. It was never there" – which is the closest thing to an existential remark we've had at a party conference.

But it was a modest line about Britain which made me well up briefly: that this country, being the home of finance and trade, had a reputation based on the notion "that money is sound and debt will be repaid". That hit a principle that Labour can't aim at. They have their own themes about care, compassion ands so forth but they're sort of made up in a way "sound money" isn't.

In the Tory tradition he crushed Nick Clegg with his complimentary remarks. "Nick Clegg stuck with it... He stuck with the agreement !" And he called on a "generosity of spirit" to recognise that. Right-wing applause, smothered laughter, secret pleasure at behaving so well. Politeness: compared with sarcasm, abuse, contempt – it is lethal. I wish I had a better grasp of it myself.

Andrew Mitchell gave a fine impression of a Pathe Pictorial newsreader circa 1956 but failed to get traction. He cried: "The great Tory principle that private enterprise is the engine of growth!" One person started clapping, but then stopped. Clap traps are not as easy as they look.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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