The Sketch: This was the new generation way – only it didn't seem... new

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In his tall, dark suit and with eyes as bright as light bulbs, he faced the audience. He drew breath. They yearned towards him. In that magic moment anything was possible.

He spread his arms. He cawed: "Earthlings!"

If only. No, he said: "Friends!" and half the audience said, "Are you talking to me?" Which is one step removed from, "What are you looking at?" Which is adjacent to the old Mancunian greeting: "You're the bastard who beat my brother up!" (But then he is the bastard who beat his brother up, I can't untangle these Labour rituals.)

He'd come on to a standing ovation which he received in the new generation way, pointing into the crowd, as if at people he recognised. His pointing coach has been fired after it was noted that he was pointing not into the audience but into the rafters. Much to learn. None of it's as easy as it looks.

The new generation. Is that working for you? He's got one new generation habit which will make every parent of teenagers shudder. He says something which is to him self-evident: "Responsible trade unions are part of a civilised society." Then he closes his eyes like a Thunderbirds puppet and stands there sadly shaking his head, perhaps at people who might disagree.

He says they must connect with the public but this is the way teenagers connect with their parents. It's why we used to have corporal punishment.

The way he talks may be an acquired taste for "the squeezed middle", the people in pubs he's trying to talk to. He gave it that bardic delivery, the singy-songy sort of thing where he hangs on words as if it were a Dylan Thomas poem he was doing.

Then we got the weepy-pleady tone added to the singy-songy thing as he aches for the human condition. And that was said by his aides to be "conversational".

He said "Let's be honest" eight times, which is seven times too many. He told the party how humble they had to be and then used "proud" or "pride" six times. "Love" was in there more than it should have been and the birth of his son was slipped in just before "as we rebuild our economy".

It didn't feel or sound... new. Two-thirds of the content was voiced by David Cameron five years ago. Most of the rest praised Labour's record. There was Tony Blair's Bible lesson. And two direct quotes from Gordon Brown: "I was born into this party" and "Let me tell you who I am".

On that point. He gave us the story of his father's flight from the Nazis to the safe haven of Britain. I'm a weeper during stories like this. Vast evil vs British liberty. I go very fuzzy very quickly on these things. But the bardic delivery and the banality of the story-telling left me dry-eyed and fingering the volume on my iPod.

If ever there was a chance to do human, there it was. But for all his mums-and-dads and let's-be-honests, he'll suddenly cry, "Earthlings!" or, as he put it, "stereotyping everybody out of work". Try saying that in the pub.

And the mouth! The mouth is back, ballooning on the right side of his face – especially when talking about poverty and equality. You can't get into No 10 looking like those photographs of the man in a wind tunnel.

The new generation. It worked in 1967, "Hey, hey, we're the Monkeys, and we've got something to say!" But it's a big bet thinking that the over-50s (those energetic voters, let it be said) want to hear what that is.

He succeeded in disposing of his brother, that's true. He succeeded in soothing the Blairites. But how much he spoke to the public is open to question.

For me, at my age, and with my disposition, the "serious conversation" he wants would not put me and my lot in with the miserable old Chalkies and ticket inspectors who "didn't get" global warming, and "fairness" and – in consequence – "Ed Miliband".