The Sketch: Ed followed tradition in finding new ways to be obnoxious to unions


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The Independent Online

Friends. Or colleagues. Or you crazy fat losers in the audience. Looking around, one question demands an answer. When's the last bus to the hospice? Ka-zing! (Makes six-gun gesture with his hands). It was a JOKE – don't all heckle at once: I'll need a gas mask. I've got one word for you guys and it's not 'modernise' it's 'mouthwash'! Ka-zing!"

Every Labour leader seeks new ways of being obnoxious to the TUC. Ed went in and told them their "biggest challenge was relevance", that they only had 15 per cent of private-sector workers and he told them what their real role was. "Your real role is..." he said.

That was a pretty good effort.

He referred to some exploited women who'd joined a union. "You might think what chance did they have against the most powerful company in the world, but you'd be wrong!" Just to go over that again. He was saying to the TUC that the TUC would have assumed there was no point in joining a union because unions were irrelevant – and that this was a wrong thing to think. "Let us applaud them for what they achieved!" Ed cried, into a baffled silence.

He's still a delight to watch; he's starting to do his own signing, though heaven knows what deaf people think he's saying with his widespread arms, like Freddy Krueger playing "Come Here Little Boy". The formal delivery still needs more work. He's got a yearning, pleading Sunday-sermon cadence like aggressive begging by Archbishop Rowan Williams. Oh, the relief when he stops speaking. And his text pumps out more than the usual flow-rate of political sewage about challenge, change and responsibility. So, as ever, much done, much to do.

Occasional specific propositions – about that company Bombardier, and fighting the NHS Bill – got applause. But his rallying cry "meaningful negotiation to prevent further confrontation" had far too many syllables. It may have been more believable than "I understand your work in podiatry", as he said to one of them, but it has robbed them of half their recruiting proposition. It's modern life – see yesterday's remarks on Christianity without hell and capitalism without destruction.

But he got the row he was looking for by refusing to endorse the strikes and supporting academies and free schools. "I'm sorry people say 'Shame'," he said, quite untruthfully. To his credit, though, he did look steady under fire.