For a start, the word ‘new’ was subdued and barely visible on the back-cloth, a sure sign that it is in the process of being erased.
And the expression ‘New Labour’ was virtually ignored in the prime minister’s speech, now more famous for the effusion of sweat than for its histrionic contents.
When Peter Mandelson, as Labour’s director of communications, got to grips with the conference in the 1980s, he skilfully turned it into a slick, stage-managed affair where criticism of the leadership, if not banned, was certainly muted. It became a regimented, sanitised and soulless event – light years away from the days of furious trade union bust-ups, people storming off the platform and a bit of honest, bloody-minded political hurly-burly.
But now, praise be, the tedium is over and the everyone is at each others throats once more.
We had the chancellor, Gordon Brown, rushing back hotfoot from the IMF meeting in Prague to engage in the long-forgotten art of confrontations with trade union bosses over beer and sandwiches in smoke-filled rooms – to discuss pensions.
And then, when Unison boss Rodney Bickerstaffe refused to back off a vote, the leadership was trounced on a motion calling for ‘immediate and substantial increase’ in the basic state pension and to link it to average earnings or inflation whichever is greater.
It was a salutary bloody nose for Blair’s government which has been honeymooning for too long. Not that they will take the slightest notice of this vote.
But if Labour is coming to life again it will help the party when the unthinkable is happening: they are slipping badly in the opinion polls.
Perhaps someone other than John Prescott will dare to use the word ‘socialism’ again. And, more important than that, perhaps some of those many Labour MPs who have been slaves to their pagers for too long will start acting with an independent mind.
So, if Labour’s annual conference has restored some of the party’s old fighting spirit then it will have served a more than useful purpose.
– Chris Moncrieff is senior political analyst at PA news.
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