Well, to my surprise, I was pretty impressed by Gordon Brown’s speech. Had it on in the corner of my screen while doing some work at home, and – though I blush to say it now – once or twice I even found myself applauding.
Whether it will be enough to quell all the speculation about his leadership: certainly for the moment, yes. But in the longer term, only if it represents the start of an upturn for Labour in the polls. I’m too much of a politics geek to assess how the speech would look to the “average voter”, but I’d certainly hope that people would be willing and able to listen to what Brown had to say.
He had some effective lines, such as when he said (near the start of the speech):
If people say I’m too serious, quite honestly there’s a lot to be serious about – I’m serious about doing a serious job for all the people of this country.
Some good policies mentioned on bread-and-butter issues, including:
- free nursery places for two year olds
- complete elimination of child poverty by 2020, enshrined in law
- personal catch-up tuition for children who fall behind at primary school
- a million families to be funded to get internet access
- free universal check-ups for the over 40s
- free prescriptions for cancer treatments
- equality for women in retirement
- looking at the case for an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050
And some good blows landed on the Tories. For example, when Brown spoke of the legacy of Labour’s “big ideas” over the past century:
You know our party so often in its history has been home to the big ideas – ideas later taken for granted, but revolutionary in their time. Just think, the vote for working men, and then for women, the NHS, legal protection from race or sex discrimination. These are no longer just Labour policies, they are established British values – they are the common sense of our age.
And we should never forget one thing – that every single blow we have struck for fairness and for the future has been opposed by the Conservatives.
And just think where our country would be if we’d listened to them. No paternity leave, no New Deal, no bank of England independence, no Sure Start, no devolution, no civil partnerships, no minimum wage, no new investment in the NHS, no new nurses, no new police, no new schools.
And so let’s hear no more from the Conservatives – we did fix the roof while the sun was shining.
That last line produced a standing ovation of its own, and quite rightly. My own spontaneous response was this tweet.
That passage also contained an interesting Gramscian touch, with Brown’s reference to “the common sense of our age”. New Labour as a “war of position”? 😉
Some have suggested that the “same old Tories” approach is misguided. Certainly it has to be done carefully, to avoid creating the impression that we think the public are dupes for thinking the Conservatives have changed, but Brown produced some evidence to back up the claim that the Tories’ fundamental instincts remain unchanged:
I’m a man for detail and I’ve discovered some clues about what would be in store in a Conservative Britain.
They want us to believe that, like us, they now care about public services. But when Mr Cameron actually talks to his party about their spending plans he says the difference between Labour and Tory levels of public investment will be “dramatic” and “fundamental”.
They want to tell us we’re all progressives now but the day that Hazel Blears and Caroline Flint were announcing a one billion pound package to support millions of homeowners, the Conservatives were confirming that their first tax priority is to take that one billion pounds from hard working families and hand it over to the 3,000 richest estates in Britain.
So will this save his premiership? Maybe, maybe not. But this was the first time since he became prime minister that I’ve found myself genuinely enthused by Brown’s performance. If he can keep this up post-conference, then this could make a real impact on Labour’s position – and, more importantly for the country as a whole, end the sense of bewildered indirection that has been crippling the government in recent weeks.