The Sketch: The PM's speech was so dull he could have texted it to conference

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The Independent Online

He could easily have used the fatal word. It's the word that kills any speech. It would have fitted in without any loss of tone or pace. The word is "twelfthly".

He could easily have used the fatal word. It's the word that kills any speech. It would have fitted in without any loss of tone or pace. The word is "twelfthly".

The prime ministerial address to the 2004 Trades Union Congress wasn't even boring enough to count among his most boring speeches. No, there was content, you see. Any amount of content. For instance, the 19-to 30-year-olds who were seeking Level Three qualifications would surely have taken heart from the financial support he pledged them, with gestures. The G8 record of 29 consecutive quarters of economic growth did not go unremarked. We were also reminded of the immense challenges that remain. Productivity. China. Pensions. Sitting through the speech.

The only enthusiasm he generated - strike that - the only hint of audible interest he inspired was when he said "the Government will extend the paid holiday entitlement, so that the four weeks is always an addition to eight days of public holiday". Noh theatre is more interesting.

God, it was dull. Even the cry of "shame" was half hearted. More a moan than a heckle. Someone was heckling in their sleep. But then, it was correctly pitched. The Prime Minister could have texted conference the speech with equal effect. He was a Stepford Wife, on automatic. "There is no easy solution," he declared about something or other.

I always hear Bart Simpson's election speech for class president: "He says there are no easy solutions! I say he isn't looking hard enough!"

And the content we wanted wasn't there at all. He referred to them more than once, "these changes" but was wise enough not to say what they were. The radical third term is going to fizzle, I fear.

There were two moments that provoked a snort of professional amusement. "I can't apologise for what I think about the world since September 11th," he said. That was a touch of the old master. No-one could object to that. No one has asked him to apologise for what he thinks about the world. But having created a space for agreement he put in the more controversial observation: "... or what I have done in the war against this vicious terrorism we face ...". And then the laugh line: "That would be insincere and dishonest." Mr Blair insincere? Our Prime Minister ... dishonest?

There was also an endorsement of trades unionism so lukewarm as to be hilarious, at a TUC conference, at least.

"To people at work, wondering whether membership of a union has anything to offer them, I would say: go and see." Do what? "See what a modern trade union can do; see the breadth of services they provide; see the help in troubled times they can give; and if you want to, join." When people say that Mr Blair has no roots in the union movement, this is what they mean.

But that wasn't the end. There was a little more. Thirteenthly.