For Brown this was a doddle. He couldn’t fluff it. Expectations have sunk so low that all he had to do today was show up, try not to look too knackered, spout a few revivalist platitudes and make sure he didn’t fall over. The rebellion has stalled, the plotters are paralysed. Those who criticise won’t lead, while those who would lead won’t criticise. Mandy, like a protection racketeer within the cabinet, has enriched himself in the currency of ‘loyalty’ (which in these circumstances means a reluctance to coerce others to be disloyal), and yesterday he couldn’t contain his delight at the scale of his new-found wealth.
And so Mr Brown, Mandy’s proudest protégé, appeared at 2 pm today on the Brighton seafront. Frogmarching himself stiffly along the esplanade he paused to smile and shake hands with impartial members of the local Labour party who just happened to be there, cheering and waving at their leader. Alongside him toddled the curvy figure of Sarah, her figure rippling in a starburst dress which shared its colour range with a full pack of Opal fruits. Whoopsidaisy, Sarah. Wrong moment to discover your inner Cherie.
Inside the hall she took to the rostrum and warmed up the crowd with a character-assassination of her husband. He’s intense, messy, extremely noisy, she said, and he’s cursed with terrible sleeping habits. ‘And here he is’. As Sarah withdraw, the intense, messy and extremely noisy insomniac walked up to the platform looking like the personification of a yawn.
He started uncertainly in pseudo-prophetic style. ‘Fighters and believers,’ he announced, ‘change the world.’ Righty-oh. Then, quite unexpectedly, he hit his stride. A list of Labour achievements since 1997 had the hall on its feet, roared and whooping. This ovation calmed Brown’s nerves and he relaxed visibly, his efforts encouraged at every step by surges of applause from the audience. The hall was like some anxious parent spurring an uncertain toddler to walk.
Brown’s plan for Britain’s future has three prongs. Making bankers stop being naughty with other people’s dosh. Advancing the low carbon economy. And releasing talent so that the young can ‘lead and succeed.’
Platitudes aplenty there but his forceful delivery and his evident relish for the coming fight will have stiffened resolve in the Labour heartlands. How they love to be told that the NHS is ‘not a 60-year mistake but a 60-year liberation!’ Brown brightened his speech with a fistful of new initiatives and he offered some philosophical refinements for his opponents to consider. Too much government disempowers, he conceded. But too much government indifference does the same.
Compulsory ID cards will be scrapped. Hereditary peers will be removed and a new ‘democratic and accountable’ house of lords created. A minimum level of foreign aid, fixed at 0.7 % of GDP, will be carved in legislative stone. And the AV system will be referred to the people although Brown didn’t say which system the referendum itself would use. Most startlingly he announced that teenage mums will forfeit their right to a council house. Instead the knocked up madonnas will be kennelled in government quarters and taught responsible parenting. Sounds like a council house with a prefect.
Finally he turned on the Conservatives but he didn’t bother with the usual jokes. Once upon a time the mere mention of Tories would crack the Labour conference up. Now they threaten to crack the Labour party up.
Brown assaulted the opposition using one of his favourite tactics, the statistic with a false bottom. He announced that the Tories planned ‘a £200,000 tax giveaway to the wealthiest 3000 estates.’ He said Cameron’s scheme to reduce the Home Office budget would mean cutting ‘the equivalent of 3,500 police officers this year alone’. And he alleged – surely untruthfully – that the Tories will ‘scrap the right to see a cancer specialist within two weeks.’
He finished with a pick-n-mix of soundbites. ‘Because the task is difficult,’ he hollered, ‘the triumph will be even greater!’ Translation: ‘if defeat is inevitable let it be glorious!’ That will satisfy the Tories. It has always satisfied Labour.