Popped out to buy a few things at lunchtime. Radio on in the first shop. Alan Simpson calling on Gordon to go. A few shops down the street, BBC News Channel. Graham Stringer calling on Gordon to go. Nothing if not predictable.
This was the same Graham Stringer who, at a fundraiser I did for one of our Manchester candidates, the excellent Lucy Powell, rose in the q and a to deliver a paean of praise to TB and me. I didn’t like to be churlish, but couldn’t resist pointing out that it was the kind of support leaders and their teams prefer when they’re in the job, rather than after.
Yet despite the BBC vulgarisation (phrase copyright John Cleese), the media negativity elsewhere, the Simpsons and the Stringers, I think there is at least the sense that a fightback is underway. Funnily enough, I think party activists have been ahead of ministers and MPs in feeling that all the recent defeatism has been overdone, that whatever the polls and the Cameron-cheerleading pundits may say, Dave is not the shoo-in for Downing Street he thinks he is.
I was pleased Alistair Darling was well received by the Conference. He would be the first to admit he is not a natural rabble-rousing orator, but the more people have seen of him these past difficult months, the more they have seen his fundamental decency, competence and commonsense. Those qualities have stood him and, more importantly, the economy, in good stead.
Great to see Peter Mandelson go down so well too. His speech was witty, wise in parts, and full of raw politics for the fight ahead. He reminded us of the observation TB made, that he would know his project was complete when the Party learned to love Peter. Both comments were made half in jest, but TB’s carried an important message about the importance of doing the difficult things that need to be done to win and stay in power.
What’s more, the project is not complete. Far from it. And the biggest obstacle to its completion would be a Cameron government at a time of economic recovery. As Andrew Marr reflects on the wisdom of his interview with GB yesterday, I really do hope he is putting together serious questions for Sunday about the choices Cameron and Osborne made on the economic crisis, and the impact they would have had.
Peter talked of his ups and downs with Gordon. He and I have had our ups and downs too, most notably around his second resignation. As I have said before, had it been anyone but him, we would probably have toughed it out.
But with the experience the downs have brought him, he has a deeper perspective and a humility perhaps lacking before, as when he called me after an interview in a prior shamash and said ‘I thought I did the humilty rather well.’
Writing about Angela Merkel the other day, and explaining why I thought she was on her way to victory in the German elections, I said the only communica
tions that works is authenticity. Alistair and Peter are very different characters, and very different types of politician. But what we saw today was authentically Alistair and authentically Peter.
And when Peter said that if he could come back, so could the party, you felt people saying to themselves ‘yeah, that’s right’, and you felt the mood of the place lifting. Peter as metaphor for New Labour. No wonder he was smiling.