Look back and history is peppered with great speeches. From Jesus’ sermon on the mount to Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream…’ and even taking in Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech, words delivered by mere humans have been repeatedly shown to be able to move people, shift attitudes and even change the whole direction of humankind and the history attached to it.
Given the gushing praise that surrounded Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party conference this week, you would imagine that we were indeed witnessing history in the making. Far from it. Despite the fact that almost every commentator and Cabinet minister were literally falling over themselves to heap praise on Brown – Neil Kinnock even cried so I believe !!! – the speech was little more than nothing. No great rhetoric, no great policy announcements, no need to rush out and join the Labour Party as a catalyst for a new wind sweeping through British society. Instead, it was a return to the good old days of Labour Party spin and little of anything else.
Beginning with the ‘surprise’ of his wife Sarah introducing him to the delegates, Brown went on to play down his ‘celebrity’ status, arguing that because he was a serious politician for serious times, he didn’t do ‘celebrity’ with his family because his children “aren’t props, they’re people”, Given that he’d just been introduced by his wife in front of a bank of cameras and onlookers, isn’t that just a tad hypocritical?
Even beyond this vain attempt at trying to woo voters with a more personal and friendly fronted Gordon Brown, the content of his speech was far from revolutionary. Invisible was the rhetoric of the Left, devoid was it of ideas that would reinvigorate and renew a credible alternative to the personality-obsessed (obviously Gordon’s bug-bear), centre right politics that we have had to endure since the late 1990s.
Instead, we got bland statements about building a “fair society” for all little more than a week after hedge fund ‘gamblers’ and corporate fat cats made huge fortunes on the back of others’ misfortune. Fair to those 40,000 HBOS employees now facing the possibility of job cuts and forced redundancies? A “Britain of fair chances for all and fair rules applied to all”, that is unless you’re an international banking corporation and then you merely sidestep the monopolies commission and its safeguards whilst sipping champagne with the Prime Minister in Canary Wharf.
He apologised for the 10p tax debacle, it “stung me because it really hurt that suddenly people felt I wasn’t on the side of people on middle and modest incomes – because on the side of hard working families is the only place I’ve ever wanted to be”. Maybe as a sweetener to those on ‘modest incomes’ – is that poor to everyone else Gordon? – he unveiled a £300m plan to offer free computers and internet access to more than a million children to boost their chances in the jobs market – even though they won’t be able to pay for the fuel to power the computers given Labour’s reluctance to act against rising fuel costs and spiralling food prices. At least their parents might be able to try and rectify the tax credit system errors that have seen some of the most needy people being forced into debt millions of pounds worth of errors in the tax credit system that continues to punish those who need support the most.
In a message to the Daily Mail/ Daily Express angry mob: “The dole is only for those looking for work or actively preparing for it. That’s only fair to the people pulling their weight..And let me be clear about the new Labour policy on crime; taking action on the causes of crime will never mean indulging those who perpetrate it. Fairness demands that we both punish and prevent”.
He repeated his plan to extend free nursery places for all two-year-olds over the next 10 years as well as offering free prescriptions for cancer sufferers and other long-term illnesses – at a time when the ‘progressive privatisation’ of the NHS via Public Finance Initiative schemes are already well under way and where multinational drug companies take immense profits from the NHS
And then of course, Brown went into ‘bankrupt’ political mode taking a swipe at David Cameron/ George Osborne/ David Milliband (delete as applicable to the newspaper that you read): “I am all in favour of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice” before ‘attacking’ the Tories suggestion that society is “broken”: “I think it’s the best country in the world – I believe in Britain”
I believe in Britain too Gordon but I don’t believe in either you or the Labour Party at the moment. Rid yourselves of the spin and personality politics and get back to offering credible and real policies. No matter how many times the GB – Gordon brown rather than Great Britain – sycophants tell us that things are great we have to take this with a pinch of salt. Yes, one speech can metaphorically move mountains as history has shown us. But all history will show us about this speech is that it has a memory only for the memorable.