Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Brown's speech: Solid, rousing but not too inspirational

Gordon Brown had a battle on his hands yesterday as he appealed to voters ‘don't give up on us yet’. Political Correspondent Noel McAdam considers whether he succeeded

Gordon Brown is no polished performer. At times he seems to lack basic public speaking skills. You can almost hear the gears grind as he remembers to inject momentum. He even managed to fluff his last line yesterday, nearly spoiling the build-up to a crescendo by inexplicably replacing “abiding” duty with “guiding”.

But he has the ring of authenticity and a pure party pedigree linking the past from Harold Wilson and Denis Healey through James Callaghan and on to “new” Labour.

This conference speech saw Brown at his soapbox best. He drew an ovation just a few minutes into it in a rapid-fire, almost rap-style rendition of party achievements.

By the end delegates were hand-clapping as if they had just watched a prize fight or found themselves at a rock concert — and like the superstar couple they have become, Gordon and his wife Sarah returned for a curtain call.

For a leader facing the nightmare scenario of his party suffering at least two terms out of office, Gordon instead urged people to “dream big dreams”.

This was not a PM on the defensive and there were no signs of recognition that the country wanted an apology.

While it was topped and tailed with a predictable and not particularly effective attack on the Tories — failing to demonstrate what Lord Mandelson characterises as the “chasm” that has opened up between the parties — Brown quickly moved on to a sort of ‘state of the nation' address and finally stepped on to the world stage, where he is a player, before returning to the home front.

The PM painted a picture of life for many people straight from television's Shameless — and poured on his puritan, Calvinistic values. This was a speech packed with announcements, many of them unexpected, even by well-briefed lobby hacks — a new social care service, radical plans on cancer tests and the right for local communities to “recall” misbehaving MPs.

Often Brown couldn't wait for the applause to stop, at other points the applause began long before his sentence had finished and he went on, inaudible. The core came when he told the gathered faithful it was not the time to give in “but to reach inside ourselves for the strength of our convictions”.

Delegates seemed to like what they heard. Those I spoke to referred to a “robust, policy-packed” address “tentative at first” but also showing the real steel David Cameron lacks, allowing his real character to come through, the man his wife referred to as intense but gentle.

But whether it will mean a Brown bounce in the polls remains to be seen.

In the end it was solid, but not soaring, rousing but not inspirational. He came close to achieving the landmark speech he wanted, but not quite close enough.

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