Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The big speech

Big man, big speech, but was it enough to convince the voters to start listening to Gordon Brown again?

What an adroit move putting Sarah Brown out first to introduce her husband. At last,a flash of the new Labour stage management that caught everyone by surprise and delighted the party faithful. She received an ovation that Cherie Blair could only dream of. He kissed her, twice, on the lips, like an ordinary guy, and if she loves him the audience would love him too.

Then the man himself with his let's get straight to the point, I am not a celebrity, I have made mistakes, I'm not trying to be something I'm not, confessional that was aimed at turning his weaknesses into strengths. His reputation for economic mastery was to be a source of comfort in troubled times. He would be the "rock of stability and fairness upon which people stand".

It was stirring stuff to begin with and when he paused between passages he had a hang tough look of someone ready to fight his way out of the corner he was in.

Yes, there were a few digs at David Cameron parading his children for camera, and why not, Brown has had to be humiliating by the Conservatives often enough.

When he made one of the few jokes in an hour, it hit two threats, internal and external. "I'm all in favour of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice." If only he could have added the word "David" to the end it would have had brought the house down.

He borrowed heavily, echoing Sarah Palin's march on Washington and straight out of the Barack Obama book of oratory, "This is not about me, it's about you".

But it was about him and whenever he talked about "we" he made the point with passion, thumping his chest like a gorilla in the mist. "We did fix the roof when the sun was shining...we are the party of protecting homeowners... the poor will not go unheard at the UN tomorrow because we the British people will speak up for them."

When he spoke about the care he had received himself in the NHS his voice cracked with emotion, and he showed all the promise of his original billing as Prime Minister - not flash, just Gordon.

It may not have had the soaring rhetoric, and it may have had the rhythm of a sermon during the NHS passages but it was Gordon Brown - heart and soul. It was billed as the speech of his life and no one could fault him for effort. Conference rose, again and again, to give him an ovation.

And in the immediate environment it worked it's magic. Somehow the mass hypnosis, like a plot out of a Fu Manchu novel, that has held delegates in the Manchester conference bubble mute, blind and deaf to the dire state of the Labour party for four days continued to hold.

As they spilled out of the conference halls singing the leader's praises. Brilliant, commanding, substance, bins the rebels - the reactions were fullsome and freighted with relief that it had all gone well.

For the rebels it did not change fundamentals and out there, in television screen, on Arcadia Avenue, will it give the Prime Minister a lift in the polls or just a dead cat bounce at the bottom of the tallest electoral skyscraper Labour has ever fallen off? We will know after the Tory party conference.

In the final analysis there was only one audience that really had to be convinced by this speech - the 22 members of cabinet who will convene in Downing Street in a fortnight's time when parliament reconvenes. A month after that we will know the result from the Glenrothes by-election which is where the goalpost for calling time on Mr Brown have now been moved.

In a premiership that is being measured in 14 day blocks that seems like a lifetime away. For all that effort that is how little space the speech of a lifetime brought Gordon Brown in Manchester yesterday.

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