The Sketch: A big cheer for the punch, but few misgivings about his departure

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The Independent Online

He's not the heart or soul of the Labour Party, he's its id. He's the roaring, bellowing, bullying, bruising, ranting part of Labour that isn't allowed out in polite society; but it's his sort of energy that (I'm guessing here) drives the party system. "I spent 22 years watching Tories wreck this country!" he said. He seems to believe it. He leant in to the microphone gorily to denounce "Tory hypocrisy" and "the full savagery of a Tory government!"

Ah yes, those days when working mothers were fed into liquidisers to make a cocktail mix for Mrs Thatcher's evening drinks.

"Remember who the real enemies are!" he bellowed. It's the Tories, he roared, and the Liberals and the Nationalists. And, we assumed, the media. That would be about 80 per cent of the country. It makes Abu Izzadeen look quite ecumenical.

John Prescott's announcement that this would be his last conference as deputy failed to produce the great groan he might have hoped for. But his video got an affectionate reception from the (80 per cent full) hall. That punch got a big cheer. But I can't say I'll miss his class war rhetoric. The thing about the id is that it's idiotic. And there'll be the saving on ear protectors. Every little helps.

John Reid launched his leadership bid as discreetly as he could. He laughed three times. This meant: "I am a Scot, but I am not a dour Scot, like some." "God bless Johnny Walker!" he smiled in an aside. "I am not just a laughing Scot, I am a merry Scot." We struggled to process this. He also used the words, "If I become leader of the party..." Saying that produces a jolt. It registers, doesn't it? John Reid, leader of the Labour Party. The words are out. And cleverly done because he was quoting Roy Hattersley: "He said he would shoot himself if I became leader of the party." Laughter. "Until he said that, I hadn't seen any advantage in standing." More laughter, of course; we like self-deprecation, it's the new way of boasting.

His speech went a little wide of the Home Office brief, as it must if you are going to run for leader. He wants to form "the widest, deepest, national consensus" and "a common endeavour from top to bottom" (Brown's only going for a measly "shared national purpose").

Some of his rhetoric was a bit limp and the Cameron jokes were childish, but there was enough light and shade and "values" and "compassion" and flogging to make him a serious contender for leader. He is slightly but significantly less boring than Gordon. He has the weight. And he is reluctant to stand (his strongest USP). He hasn't got any friends, they say, but if he looks like winning we can assume friends would emerge, surely?

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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