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Monday, September 25, 2006 

Brown is still Brown.

I made the mistake of listening to Gordon Brown's speech to the Labour party conference in its entirety. Hoping for something like his barnstorming "Real Labour" speech a couple of years back, the one that almost made me believe that he offered something different to Blair, this was the Gordon that delivers the Budget in his monotonous, slightly pompous, "is this it?" sort of way. It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't very good.

The whole start of the speech, given over to praising the Dear Leader for his insight, his strength, his political-weathervane, and quite possibly his indefatigability, was cringe worthy stuff. Everyone knows that they've spent weeks not talking to each other, their allies plotting against each other, the occasional act of sabotage designed purely to piss one side off, and here is Gordon, the man that many desperately want to be a break with the Blair era praising everything he's done. Not only that, Brown actively "regrets" the distraction their rivalry has caused. He lists off what Tony has been right about - how Labour has to be more than just for working people, how it has to be pro-business, how the public services must be reformed, how September the 11th changed everything, along the way supporting "liberty, democracy and justice" for everyone, which is quite a remarkable spin on what we've inflicted on both Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Brown, Darfur needs to be sorted out by the UN, something which anyone with a ounce of realism realises is utterly impossible. The African Union is the only body that has any chance of stopping what some have called genocide there. He also mentions Blair 'n' Beckett's peace plan for the Middle East, which unless you've got a short memory, you'll remember from this summer: let the Israelis bomb the other side and never suggest that their actions are either disproportionate, or that an immediate ceasefire is necessary.

Brown moves onto next addressing how his stewardship of the economy has made us all better off, and it's difficult stuff to argue against, except his notion that everything was in a mess in 97: the Tories deserve some credit in that they did help establish the economic stability that has lasted since Labour were elected. He lists people who he's desperate to help, stereotypes most likely thought up to show just how Labour he is, just how he's going to be New Labour to the core in renewing the government when he becomes prime minister. It all feels forced however; this was a Brown who we know was always more of a socialist than Tony was, who helped write a booklet about a Scotland rebuilt in red. Suddenly though it's evident that this is all just to get a reference to his childhood in:

My father was a minister of the church.

His motivation was not theological zeal but compassion.

He told me 'you can leave your mark on the world for good or ill'.

And my mother taught my brothers and me that whatever talents we had, however small, we should use them.

I don't romanticise my upbringing.

You just did. And he continues to do so, with some low-level boasting about how great his family was:

But my parents were more than an influence, they were - and still are - my inspiration. The reason I am in politics.

And all I believe and all I try to do comes from the values I learned from them.

They believed in duty, responsibility, and respect for others.

They believed in honesty and hard work, and that the things that matter had to be worked for.

Most of all my parents taught me that each of us should live by a moral compass. It was a simple faith with a fundamental optimism. That each and every one of us has a talent. Each of us a duty to use that talent. And each of us should have the chance to develop that talent.

And my parents thought we should use whatever talent we had to help people least able to help themselves.

The moral compass stuff is good, but where was this moral compass when we launched the war against Iraq? The only evidence he gave two hoots about the war was that it might have affected the balancing of his books, not whether the war was either moral or justified. As for the honesty and hard work, this is the kind of tough New Labourism that the Sun loves. We might be Labour, but we don't stand for freeloaders!

And all these challenges have one central defining feature in common - a lesson we have learnt in government.

None can be met by government alone.

In nine years I've learned that these new challenges can be met only by government and people working together, met only by an active citizenship only by involving and engaging the British people and forging a shared British national purpose that can unify us all.

Take terrorism.

Let me promise: as a government, as John Reid and Des Browne have said, we will take any necessary steps and find all necessary resources to ensure whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else there is no safe haven for terrorists and no hiding place for terrorist finance.

But we also know that we must isolate these murderous extremists and we will do so best when we, the British people, mobilise the essential decency and moderation of all our communities and win the battle of ideas for hearts and minds.

All very noble ideas. The reality is as ever, different. The government ignores, and continues to ignore the reason why some of these murderous extremists are in our communities. The government thumbed its nose at numerous proposals by a body set-up to look at the issues surrounding the 7/7 bombings, and then we have John Reid, marching around with his spurious stories about brainwashing, offering no practical help at all to those who do worry about where their youth are heading. This battle of ideas would be wonderful if it actually existed: what we really have is a government that pretends to listen but instead wants to impose its doctrine on communities without any debate.

One of the few new, or reasonably new pledges, does emerge after Brown did his best to look tough:
But to make all this happen we cannot tolerate second best investment in our schools. And, step by step, we will raise investment in state school pupils now £5,500 per pupil to today's level for private school pupils - £8,000 a year.

And I make this challenge to all parties - if you believe, like us, in equal opportunities in education, support my priority for the future: invest in education first.

Again, nudging at the back of your mind is the fact that Labour has just pushed through its trust schools bill, wanted by next to no one other than a few New Labour believing school headmasters and the Tories, a measure which is bound to exploited by Cameron if he does get in. Academies, the wheeze of getting businesses and non-governmental organisations to sponsor schools, has so far resulted in little extra benefit, except for evangelicals getting their hands on minds still being shaped.

One of the more eye-catching parts of the speech is Brown's talk on climate change which is refreshing when compared to Blair's previous talk of how economic growth always has to come first:
And I make this promise: tackling climate change must not be the excuse for rich countries to impose a new environmental colonialism: sheltering an unsustainable prosperity at the expense of the development of the poor.

Completely right. We know full well that if we do not change and alter our own lifestyles that it will the developing world hit hardest: Brown here at least has the guts to admit it. How's he going to solve it though? With a £20 billion global fund! Money, rather than action, is as ever the solution to everything.

Brown continues, going onto his usual riff about Britishness and our shared values:
And while we do not today have a written constitution it comes back to being sure about and secure in the values that matter: freedom, democracy and fairness. The shared values we were brought up with and must not lose: fair play, respect, a decent chance in life.

And let us reaffirm the truth, that as individual citizens of Britain we must act upon the responsibilities we owe to each other as well as our rights.

Here is the deal for the next decade we must offer: no matter your class, colour or creed, the equal opportunity to use your talents.

In return we expect and demand responsibility: an acceptance there are common standards of citizenship and common rules.

No pledge then for a written constitution, something that Britain is crying out for. For the moment the "hated" Human Rights Act is the closest thing we have. Then again, perhaps it's for the best, as Brown's ideas about a constitution seem rather different to what the Americans had in mind when they wrote the first ten amendments. Nowhere in there do you see "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances
BUT only if you play by our rules, accept our citizenship and promise not to disagree with our view that the empire was a good thing". It's a very British idea that you have your rights, but only as long as you don't do anything that might upset us. It's part of the reason the Sun is so opposed to the Human Rights Act - treating everyone with the same dignity and respect is a heinous crime if they happen to be a Bulgarian or Romanian who may harbour ambitions of wanting to come here once their countries join the EU.

It goes on. And on. And on. It's all just too familiar, they same things that Brown has been banging on about for a couple of years now, with the odd new promise here and there. He mentions legislating to tackle corporate manslaughter, something that Labour has pledged to do ever since it came to power and still hasn't. It's hard to get enthusiastic that he'll be any different in actually making sure it happens, especially as he's just as much a toady of the CBI as Blair is. The only joke Brown cracks in the whole speech is about how he's more concerned about the arctic circle than the Arctic Monkeys, which is slightly self-depreciative and welcome, but it needed more. There's no denying that some of the speech is a breath of fresh air, such as recognising that young people shouldn't be stigmatised over the acts of a minority, something which Tony Blair has never so much as dared to voice for fear of the Sun and Mail screaming at him, but it's overshadowed by his acceptance of the failed policies that Labour still is trying to ram through: ID cards, more than 28 days detention without charge. There's no mention of replacing Trident, something he said he was going to do in a previous speech. There's no suggestion that the pace of reform in the NHS is far too much too quickly, when the staff are screaming for a stop. There's no mention of SureStart, and while he does talk about the drop in child poverty, he knows only full well how the gap between the poorest and the richest has massively expanded under Labour.

It was then, a completely New Labour speech. This was Brown setting out his stall, telling everyone that in effect he will continue the Dear Leader's legacy, that the country is safe under him. It doesn't seem to matter that however much he does this, he still gets attacked by the unrepentant Blairites who can't see what they're doing to the party which they've hijacked. Mandelson's quotable comments were a case in point. It lacked the passion, it lacked the verve, it lacked notable new policies, it lacked everything that made some of us believe Brown would be different. New Labour is dead. Long live New Labour.

Related posts:
BlairWatch - Gordon Preaches to Conference - The other Cheek of the Same Arse
Guido - Brown Speech Live Blog

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