TWO party conferences have been held at Bournemouth this week. On Monday Gordon Brown addressed a meeting of the Labour Party. Yesterday Tony Blair spoke to the New Labour Party. The difference was not just in the use of the old and new titles; it went beyond that, with Mr Brown's feet firmly planted on socialist soil and Mr Blair's head in the clouds of change and reform. Mr Brown received a rapturous reception; Mr Blair was given the respect due a Prime Minister.
Whether he earned that respect is another matter. Controversial policies such as foundation hospitals and university top-up fees need to be debated at Conference. But war is an issue that transcends all others and Tony Blair took Britain to war only five months ago despite enormous public protest and for reasons that have not been borne out by events. Should not Iraq therefore have been debated at Bournemouth also? Many constituency parties and most trade unions thought so but somehow it did not reach the agenda - Mr Blair did not want a debate because he knew Conference would pass a resolution critical of his actions. However this did not stop him from speaking on the subject yesterday on his own terms and asking the Conference for its understanding even an understanding that if the Iraq crisis were to occur again he would take the same decision. In other words, he has learnt nothing.
The Prime Minister's speech was technically one of his best, delivered with the special down-market accent that he affects on these occasions. He wanted us to know that he has no reverse-gear, and seemed to think that that is to his credit. Above all he wanted our trust but many people will remain convinced that he forfeited it over Iraq.