Brown's Conference Speech
Firstly, a word about the BBC.
It remains a mystery how the BBC squares its duty of impartiality with its employment of right-wing Andrew Neil to anchor these party conference programmes and allow him to make snide comments in his voice-over both before and after Brown's speech. He might make equally snide comments about Cameron next week but he shouldn't be editorialising at all.
The BBC News channel has just informed viewers that it received over 600 emails from viewers during Brown's speech and 90% of these were negative.
Have they never heard of organised emailing campaigns? It may simply be that the Tories are more efficient at this than Labour. I have no evidence for this. However, the only people watching the speech live would be the unemployed and the retired. Only a tiny number of such people would actually be motivated to sit and watch a political speech. And how many of those would be sitting at their keyboard emailing BBC News even while the speech was being given? You'd be unlikely to get 600 people contacting the BBC in an hour if someone said 'cunt' during Songs of Praise.
As for the speech, it was almost certainly the best of Brown's career although cynics might say that's hardly high praise.
He didn't speak about his parents again, thank God. Nor his moral compass. But he did again mention losing the sight of one eye. He said he hadn't told them before that he almost lost the sight of his other eye, at which I half expected the audience to shout "Oh yes you did!" For I'm sure that he's mentioned that in other speeches.
The problem with politicians talking about their integrity and their values is that it can come across as sanctimonious. And Brown has now done it rather too often. I'm always reminded of the phrase "the more he talked of his honour, the faster we counted the spoons."
I happen to think that Brown is a person of integrity and strong moral values. Unfortunately, the people who do most boasting about such things are usually the biggest rogues.
When it comes to judging someone by their actions rather than their words, the verdict with Brown is mixed.
Today's speech did contain some meaty new policies, such as free prescriptions for anyone with cancer and eventually free prescriptions for anyone with a serious long-term condition. It remains to be seen what counts as a 'serious long-term condition'. I knew someone on a low wage with debilitating irritable bowel syndrome who was spending thousands of pounds a year on medication. And one has to ask why this Government still hasn't done much about the crisis in NHS dentistry.
Free health check-ups for everyone over 40 sounds splendid. "The first country in the world to do this", claimed Brown.
But hang on. My local NHS surgery was offering this years ago. I know because I had one. But then it was discontinued. And we don't yet know the detail. Will it be just a blood pressure check, a blood test and a urine sample? Or something more thorough? To be truly effective it needs to include an MRI scan and a heart scan. Is there both the funding and the facilities for that?
Having recently written about the 'digital divide', I can hardly complain about the Government paying for poorer families to have free broadband and vouchers to buy computers. But I don't entirely share the Government's enthusiasm about the educational value of the internet. Potentially, yes. But it's like saying "travel broadens the mind" - it depends who's doing the travelling.
We also had the announcement today of a million free theatre tickets for people under 26 because not enough young people go to the theatre. It's well-meaning social engineeering but all a bit silly. When I went to the theatre and to symphony concerts as a child there were very few other young people there. On that evidence and on the Government's reasoning, live theatre and concerts should have died out by now. Let's invert the reasoning: how about free skateboards and free admission to nightclubs for the over 50s?
Brown also announced the extension of free nursery places to foetuses. OK, I exaggerate slightly. But, as evidence mounts of the harmful long-term effects of slinging young kids into the care of strangers in baby-farms, I'd prefer Oliver James' suggested policy of paying mothers a salary to look after their young children themselves. It would be vastly expensive but James reckons it would be cost-effective by reducing crime, low educational achievement and mental illness.
The most glaring omission from Brown's speech was any help for those on low incomes and benefits with their fuel bills this winter. I had a slight hope that he might have had a change of mind on this. His failure to do more than say "lag your loft" makes a nonsense of all his talk of doing the right thing and helping the vulnerable.
It was a successful speech on the day but it won't help him much in the medium term if the polls still show Labour heading for oblivion.
55% of people think Cameron is a 'lightweight' and I doubt that many could name a single Tory policy. But I don't think Brown can grasp the fact that this won't necessarily stop people voting Tory. As the cleverest Prime Minister since Gladstone, I don't think Brown understands the irrationality of many of his fellow citizens nor the fact that most of them have little knowledge of, nor interest in, politics.
The oldest saying in politics is that Oppositions don't win elections, Governments lose them. And if times are hard and the economy's fucked, it's curtains for the Government, regardless of whether they were to blame or whether Gordon followed his school motto and 'did his utmost' or whether the Tories would make a much bigger mess of things.
You can aspire to 'The Fair Society', Gordon. But life's not fair. Life's a bitch.