The Sketch: Foreign Secretary's hand gestures lost in translation

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The Independent Online

Infinitely better than last year, we can all agree on that. In tone, pitch, delivery and content a vast improvement; it was almost mediocre. "Sell!" a flat voice behind me said as the applause started and the reluctant ovation spread back from the front.

He spoke for 21 minutes in a very leaderly way using the special leader's voice he puts on at moments like these. Values, optimism, justice, democracy, freedom, the economy. He didn't seem to be actively against any of that. That's probably good. Money is always well spent on a good speechwriter. Pride, fairness, and our Leader (yes, capitalised) Gordon Brown. One man. He made the difference. (Down in the hall, the Potemkin villagers clapped their hands.)

But he's a nice fellow and he gave us a few moment of pleasure which he didn't have to do. He called himself the Home Secretary for one thing. He blew out his cheeks halfway through the text as though his blood sugar level had collapsed. And at one point he went off into a little dream world repeating a phrase to himself in a murmured diminuendo. "The Tories are beatable" was the phrase, once, twice, three times (then he woke up. It had all been a wonderful dream).

He's also mastered the strange Noh theatre gestures that politicians use in platform speeches: the steepled fingers, the chop, the point, the honest open palm, the thumb and forefinger held up in a delicate pinch.

That, incidentally is an Italian way of saying, "You have a tiny penis." I don't think he should use that gesture so much in front of Labour Party activists; they haven't come to Manchester to be told that. "When I look back over 11 years in government, I feel pride in your tiny penis." No, he won't get to be Prime Minister saying that sort of thing.

"We know what we believe, so let's go out and argue for your contemptibly small reproductive equipment." I'm no spin doctor but that ain't going to play in the country, I'm afraid.

Gordon was delighted with the speech. I can't think why. His rival had praised him with the sentiment, "And that is the difference a man with negligible organ of regeneration can make to the debate." But Gordon was happy to smirk and produce his twisted, flickering smile because his rival had come in well under expectation.

Last year's theme was the election that never happened; this year it's the putsch that never happened. We just have to be brave. You can't have a coup without a candidate.