One of the speakers on the last morning of the Labour conference was a young woman called “Tulip” whose very name brightened a grim dark hall and a grey autumn day.
This was in a section of the agenda entitled “Building Strong Communities”, a name that evidently concealed a debate – in so far as the Labour conference debates anything – about the environment.
After that, a Labour functionary called Margaret Wheeler, who was chairing the session, made what may be the most significant remarks of the week. There was no time for more floor speakers just then, she said, as it was necessary to move on to Ruth Kelly’s speech. “May I suggest,” she added helpfully, “that those wishing to speak should hastily recast their remarks for health or education in the debates later.”
So it’s official: it doesn’t matter what subject it is, you just say the same things. The template is: “In the past 11 years, conference, your Labour government has abolished ——-, put £xxxm into ———- for the ——- and provided free —— for the over-60s/over-80s/under-fives. The Tories opposed all these changes and have said they will revert to ——-. We want to make ——- stronger. That’s why we need unity and a fourth term for Labour.”
Unfortunately for Ms Kelly, the transport secretary, her plans to offer the usual boilerplate were disrupted by a late-night phone call telling her that her plans to resign from the cabinet had been leaked. She had hastily to recast her speech, too, and announced that she would be departing from her text. However, this was actually in the official text distributed in advance. It’s the Labour conference – spontaneity isn’t something that just happens.
(Who did the leaking? The answer to the cui bono question was surely the resurgent Brownites, who still needed to be sure that Kelly’s impending resignation could not be used as part of a last-gasp mass walkout by the failed plotters. Even as she spoke, masked hitmen were believed to be interrogating suspects, quietly garrotting ringleaders and mopping up pockets of resistance in the hotel bars.)
The upshot was that Ms Kelly could not express what are thought to be her innermost feelings about the prime minister, and was obliged to emphasise Gordon’s “towering” stature and the demands of her family.
However, she did not look like someone who had been up all night. Her severe convent-approved hairstyle has long gone, but impending liberation has added an extra dimension. Brown hair cascading to her fuchsia (or maybe pink-tulip) jacket, she might have been a footballer’s wife. Sarah Palin? She’s lucky our Ruth didn’t go in for Miss Alaska.
The non-resignation part of her speech, alas, was the usual ministerial baloney. She mentioned a “rolling programme of electrification” for the railways, which is an aspiration for Labour’s 23rd consecutive term of office, and high-speed rail lines, expected sometime around the 37th. She then chucked in a reference to “kick-starting” new bus services, which is a particularly unfortunate use of language.
There was also an attack on people who want to ration flying (thought to be David Cameron circa 2006). Labour cares passionately about the future of the planet, but not if it means losing the vote of a single lagered-up Ryanair stag-weekender.
Somehow, her heart didn’t seem in it, though. Good as she looked, Ms Kelly seemed like someone who knew she had peaked in politics, and was ready to move on, probably to make some dosh. She should wear the fuchsia jacket to the interviews.
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