Brown has a vision at last

There are times beyond partisanship when it’s important for a leader to succeed and this was one of them. Gordon Brown pulled it off, I think, leaving us with the question: why hadn’t he done it before? After all he had rivalled Tony Blair at previous conferences but rising to the top job seemed to unnerve, even unman him. Perhaps it took the financial crisis to snap him into it. Springing his wife Sarah on the conference to introduce him showed he wasn’t above a touch of theatre. His harsh tilt at Cameron for using a further touch “my children aren’t props; they’re people” – allowing his kids to be photographed, sounded priggish but showed where he draws the line on theatre and against Cameron whom he unreasonably dislikes.

This speech was all about “letting Gordon be Gordon” – “I’m not going to try to be something I’m not.” Another tilt, ostensibly at Cameron was clearly directed at David Miliband too: “This is no time for a novice.” All the cabinet got name checks, even Shaun Woodward. on the commitment to “ complete devolution.” But I’ve combed through the text twice and I can’t see the reference. As so often Northern Ireland was a fumbled afterthought.
A word of mea culpa was right. “Where I’ve made mistakes I’ll put my hand up and try to put them right. So what happened with 10p stung me because it really hurt that suddenly people felt I wasn’t on the side of people on middle and modest incomes – because on the side of hard-working families is the only place I’ve ever wanted to be. And from now on it’s the only place I ever will be.”

“Fairness” is too flat a theme to inspire me, the “new settlement for a new age” had the right level of ambition. “And so it falls to this party and to this government,… that we do all it takes to stabilise the still turbulent financial markets and then in the months ahead we rebuild the world financial system around clear principles. I and then Alistair will meet financial and government leaders in New York to make these proposals:

First, transparency – all transactions need to be transparent and not hidden.

Second, sound banking, a requirement to demonstrate that risks can be managed and priced for bad times as well as good.

Third, responsibility – no member of a bank’s board should be able to say they did not understand the risks they were running and walk away from them.

Fourth, integrity – removing conflicts of interest so that bonuses should not be based on short term.

My doubts about London’s future as a world financial centre were dismissed. ( glad you were browsing Gordon) . “And if we make these changes I believe London will retain its rightful place as the financial centre of the world.”

There were the lollipops that Brown loves to toss out – more nursery places and free internet and broadband for kids, free annual check-ups for the over 40s, free prescriptions for all cancer patients.

There was a staking out of the fightback against the Conservatives around the NHS and a jibe that raised the roof at Tory charges of his profligate spending: :“We did fix the roof while the sun was shining!”. But on the cost of the “new settlement” no details, just the usual ominous rhetoric; “And so there are tough choices and I have to say that as a result of the events of recent weeks there are going to be tougher choices we will have to make and priorities we will have to choose.”

First reactions, more guarded from the Guardian, “ he’s done enough for now”; “ a breathing space” from the Times; and surprisingly from the Daily Mail “ the speech of a lifetime.” Worth including is the live sketch of the speech, increasingly a feature of the web editions of the papers and very good too.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London