There were a hundred yards of hubbub in the conference centre as party members queued to get into the hall. Three years (and a week) ago they would have been Labour members crushing in to the same hall to hear Tony Blair’s magnificent valedictory speech.
Remember that? Not everyone does, particularly in the Labour Party. He told them how to win elections. He warned them not “to lose the psychology of a governing party”. He remarked that it was “the country” that had made his party change. And saying he would always be watching over them, he began the long process of handing over the mantle of power to his successor – who delivered another election winning speech this afternoon.
There he was. Not quite handsome and not quite young, but smooth and only a little weathered since his election victory. He spoke for a new party – one that has genuinely, sincerely and deeply changed for the very good reason that it wants to get elected for once.
As Cameron went through his speech he put a throb in Tory hearts, a sob in Tory throats. They presented their collective Tory withers and he wrung them. He wrang them very thorughly. Frankly I feel a little tender myself and I hadn’t even volunteered mine.
One section made me dream again the impossible dream – Labour comes third. It was the fastest and densest ovation. It was the one about the marginal tax rate caused by the benefit taper for solo mums. I can feel your pulses quickening.
“Thirty years ago this party won an election fighting against 98 per cent tax rates on the richest. Today I want us to show even more anger about 96 per cent tax rates on the poorest!”
Up they went as one. Ethical tax cuts! At last! Poor people enjoying the same pleasures of the rich. Talk about all being in this together. And it set him up for his most daring sally, delivered with a tremor of indignation: “Don’t you dare lecture us about poverty! You have failed and it falls to us, the modern Conservative party to fight for the poorest who you have let down!” Yes, I promise you, that’s what he said, and if you’d been in the hall you would have been carried along with it too.
It was an identifiably Tory speech because there were things in it Gordon Brown wouldn’t say. “It is more government that got us into this mess.” Also, “if you can work you should work and not live off the hard work of others.” And, “Big government has totally failed in state education”, and – imagine this sticking in Gordon’s gizzard – “To be British is to be sceptical of authority.”
So there he is, confident of his 40 per cent in the polls and pitching from a right-of-centre position for another 20 per cent of floaters and marginals. We are back to two-party politics, at last.
And to prove it, Gordon is running the Tories’ “demon eyes” strategy against Cameron. It didn’t work against Blair because he was decent, likeable and believable. The same goes for his heir. It’s obviously true.
Gordon’s rhetorical strategy is as bust as it could be now. It’s harder and harder to see the point of him.
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