A clever speech won't save Brown

Even before Gordon Brown walked on stage this week he had officially moved the goal posts. Having his wife Sarah Brown give the 'my husband, the hero' intro changed things completely.

Tara Hamilton-Miller
Tara Hamilton-Miller

When Sarah first got together with Gordon she was grateful for advice from a key Brown aide that she should be 'like the Queen Mother, occasionally seen and not heard'. She has now officially outed herself. Desperate times and all that ...

As every word will have been dissected by the time this journal goes to press I will refrain from blowing a fuse over our Prime Minister's grubby accusation that David Cameron was using his children as 'props'. Brown has always enjoyed his deep, thinking man's role. But this speech showed he's willing to play dirty.

Watching Brown deliver his speech, something was familiar. It took me back to the Tory conference on 9 October 2003. Just like the Labour faithful today, delegates were on their best behaviour, vox-popping that Iain Duncan Smith deserved a fair chance. IDS announced: 'The quiet man is here to stay and he's turning up the volume.' He was given multiple standing ovations. Tories - even the elderly ones with hip replacements - made an effort.

As the frenzied clapping finally died down, journalists were whispering into mobile phones to shadow cabinet members who knew the game was over. The following fortnight IDS endured the wrath of press and letters of no confidence from Tory MPs. Nineteen days after his conference speech he was gone.

James Naughtie said on the BBC's Today programme this week: 'Nothing and everything is happening. It's all below the surface.' Yes, conferences are warrens of gossip and plotting. People prowl around like animals measuring each other up.

It is always worth sticking around at the end of leaders' speeches for one of life's most guilty but fulfilling pleasures - watching tired and emotional delegates dance. The Labour bunch jiggled to Jackie Wilson's (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher. But things may be very different next week.

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