The Sketch: Big, throbbing and nasty - my thumb, that is

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The Independent Online

My septic thumb (part IV). From throbbing yellow, to ruptured, blue-black poison sac, my septic thumb has traversed the political spectrum in an absolutely disgusting way. The skin has now come off leaving the area red and glistening, vulnerable but past the worst, as new flesh struggles to close over the open wound. Which brings us to Labour in general and the Chancellor's speech in particular.

My septic thumb (part IV). From throbbing yellow, to ruptured, blue-black poison sac, my septic thumb has traversed the political spectrum in an absolutely disgusting way. The skin has now come off leaving the area red and glistening, vulnerable but past the worst, as new flesh struggles to close over the open wound. Which brings us to Labour in general and the Chancellor's speech in particular.

The conference hall set designer deserves an award. The red background is the same red as the seat backs, bringing platform and audience together. "We are separated only by artificial distance; in essence we are together," it says. The red is dappled with shadows, almost shyly. It's a listening red.

The Chancellor's warm-up act dramatised his favourite fiscal mechanism, the working families tax credit. A Fish Called Casper portrayed a child and his family making the trip to the goldfish shop to buy the little boy a goldfish. Perhaps he was going to eat it. Life is good under Labour.

The Chancellor turned in his noisiest performance since last year. Some of it was noteworthy. He uttered the words New Labour without visible use of a gag suppressant. He talked about the need to go forward united under Tony Blair, "our leader". He gave it to the rank and file hot and strong about facing up to change. The Government wasn't going to slow the pace of reform; co-existence with the private sector was essential. This was magnificent, in its way. It made you think that, in these uncertain times, he might remain as Chancellor under Tony Blair in the interests of the stability he values so highly.

He mentioned almost every cabinet minister in a prime ministerial way. He left out Alan Milburn; I can't think why. He could have said: "And Alan Milburn is going to direct the general election campaign brilliantly and we'll win, as The Independent sketch writer so daringly predicts, with a 110-seat margin." He said something different; I forget quite what.

It was back to Plan A, essentially, back to prudence and stability after a messy flirtation with taking the top job. Despite any demotion of ambition he was still in charge of creating the new national consensus (yes, let's have one of those). I almost believed he might pull it off (I am vulnerable to bellowers). He also made clear he was in charge of the election campaign - he would let us know what the priorities were going to be in his autumn statement. The Granita deal seems intact.

No speech of the Chancellor's is complete without an excursion into La-La land. We basked in the full glare of his mania: "150 years is too long to wait for justice". And the idea we had to make the NHS free at the point of delivery because otherwise there was no hope for Africa - that might have lost you as well as me.

Magnificent, then, moving even, but au fond , un-prime ministerial.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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