The Sketch: More good riddance than fond farewell

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"I poked the swine and it leered at me."

Some years ago, there was an explosives expert who made a lot of money on the after-dinner circuit. He blew up cesspits when asked, and he memorably described one such in the terms above. It had developed a skin but the waste underneath was still fluid and it heaved and leered when he poked it.

It was very reminiscent of the Prime Minister in front of the TUC conference. A thin veneer of politeness concealed the delegates' feelings. He poked them ("Some people think George Bush is a greater threat than the Islamic terrorists") and they stirred, they leered, a bubble of gas broke but there was no explosion.

The demolition man put too much explosive into his charge, he told his after-dinner audience, and when he let it off the whole volume of decomposing waste rose up into the air "dark like an avenging angel. It had all the colours of the blackbird's wing in it," he said (you can see why he was well paid). It hung in the air and then fell on him as he tried to run away.

Nothing like that happened to the Prime Minister. The delegates stayed at leering and heaving, and he just poked, neither flogging nor fondling them. "It's warming up!" he said once as they turned to jeering, "I'm warming up! You were warm before I got here!" They would have preferred the flogging, on balance, rather than this deft, schoolboyish deflation. And flogging would have made it very difficult for Gordon Brown. But the Prime Minister seems to have other things on his mind.

There were heckles on Iraq and privatisation ("Disgraceful!"). There was almost some booing, but it sounded more like "moo" than "boo". The speech itself was (we assume) deliberately dull. Terrorism. Globalisation. EU enlargement. I think I caught the words "praised by the OECD" more than once. He said we needed to "develop the 'and' and abolish the tyranny of the false 'or'". Thus, with immigrants we welcome "and" control them. It's Ciceronian, isn't it?

He gave us some "to be serious for a moment" reflections on 10 years in power. It's better, he concluded, to be in government doing things you don't want done than to be in opposition producing meaningless resolutions while the other party does the things you don't want done. It produced polite applause. Not quite the bill for a grand, final tour finale, but there it was.