The Sketch: Uninspired Gove outclassed by a doughnut

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The Independent Online

Every time he said the word "values" I got a flash of the long cream doughnuts they sell in the conference cafe area. They are superb, Blackpool specimens. It's the extra fat that makes the difference. "My vision," Michael Gove said, and there they were again, with the fancy cream yellowing slightly. "A better future for every child." Mmmmm. With sugar dissolving into their gorgeous, split, deep-fried bodies. "The core values of the British people," he said; "Yes," I thought, "They're long, they're full-fat, spiked with E numbers. Those are core values we can all share."

I shouldn't have been thinking such things. I blame Michael Gove. We may be on the brink of an election and we're getting speeches that can't compete with doughnuts. Was it the Janet and John delivery? That didn't help. All that cut and paste stuff about India and China? The flirting with weighted vouchers, but refusing to come out with it? How few of these technocrats, brainiacs and backroom boys can engage with an audience.

You'd think an education speech would tear up the hall, considering the material to work with; when you think of Gordon Brown. But there's far too much talk of "tackling the skills deficit" and calling for "an independent audit of the Government's fiscal rules". Where's the moral case for lower taxes? The forensic dissection of Gordon Brown's dishonesties? The case for liberty?

This is the one time of the year when the public hears what these people want to say. George Osborne began with: "The question people are asking this week is simple." Then he looked down at his notes to make sure he knew what the question was. It wasn't a bad speech, in the end (I only had three doughnut flashes) but it was very far from something that devours its audience.

At every stage of the game the Tories have taken things less seriously, less urgently, less intensely than their opponents in government. That's why they find it impossible to win any argument. Gordon can still denounce them for "cuts" while cutting, and recklessness for spending what he's promised to spend.

Only Alan Duncan said something memorable: "The possibility of failure does not exist." I wouldn't want that in a dictionary of political quotations over my name.

PS: "Speech of his life" news. Everyone says Cameron has to make one of these tomorrow but it isn't necessarily so. Four or five years ago, the leader of the party Iain Duncan Something or Other promised a speech that would lift the party four points in the polls. He gave the worst speech in the history of conservatism and achieved the four points as promised. He had realised that after every Tory conference the party goes up four points in the polls. This time next week, Gordon's lead will be halved.