The Sketch: So he goes, and Labour asks: 'What have we done?'

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The Independent Online

Missing him already? Without wanting to oversell the case for yesterday's event, it was the speech of the century. The deftness of the man is amazing. He skewered his enemy with such a fine, Italian hand that the wound is only now opening up.

"My wife," he said, and we all leaned forward. How on earth was he going to deal with this? "At least I know she's not going to run off with the bloke next door." The charm of the man!

Only later did we see he'd confirmed, baldly, in public that his wife had called his most senior colleague a liar.

There was more: "There has been a lot of talk of lies and truth this week." This produced one of those bottomless silences in the packed, stacked hall. It was daring talk for a party conference.

There has indeed been a lot of talk about lies. Tony Blair himself has briefed (we assume it was he, from the careful attribution) that Gordon's "mendacity" is astonishing. So conference held its breath as he picked his way through a well-constructed paragraph concluding with the words: "Gordon Brown". The applause was loud and sustained - but it was for Blair's courage and delicacy, not for Brown's achievements. Blair's tribute to Gordon was infinitely less than Gordon's to him - and yet it sounded substantially more. How the Government needs talent like that!

Gordon Brown, for the record, "is a remarkable man". Yes, I suppose he is, when you think about it.

Mr Blair is also, one hears, telling journalists that Gordon "is not a leader". That he "lacks leadership". This may reflect on the fact that John Reid got more of a push in Blair's speech than did his old ally and partner in arms.

But it was a multi-dimensional tour de force. Sublime in parts, ridiculously touching in others.

He recounted a story of his sons campaigning on the doorstep and encountering volleys of Blair-abuse. "And what are you looking like that for?" one enraged voter demanded and Euan mumbled that Blair was in fact his dad and the voter apologised and asked him in for a cup of tea. I must be losing my resistance to Blair, because I had to clear my throat hurriedly at this story.

There were others, too. The most unifying message in the most charming way you can imagine. (I'm deliberately ignoring half a dozen things in order to say this.) Self-deprecating, teasing, laughing, intelligent, determined, idealistic, effective and (for those who like all that social justice stuff) correct. So Blair goes; and the question Labour is left with is: "What on earth have we done?"

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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