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HENRY DEEDES watches the Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves at the Labour party conference

Last time around, the Shadow Chancellor’s conference speech was, for most taxpayers, a cattle-prod-to-the-privates event. Teacups in the boardrooms rattled – and sensible-minded economists reached for the nearest bottle of Smirnoff.

Last time I was in Brighton, John McDonnell stood, arm aloft Che Guevara style, laying out plans for renationalisation and a four-day week and taxing the rich until the pips squeaked. Anyone would think you’d walked in to a Soviet disco. Delegates whooped and cheered in the aisles.

Nowadays, lord help us, we have Rachel Reeves.

Miss Reeves is a wholly different prospect from mad dog McDonnell. A studious, homework-in-early type who one imagines has never witnessed the words ‘insufficient funds’ flash up on the cash machine ahead of a night on the razzle.

Last time around, the Shadow Chancellor’s conference speech was, for most taxpayers, a cattle-prod-to-the-privates event. Nowadays, lord help us, we have Rachel Reeves (pictured)

This is someone so eminently sensible she makes Philip Hammond looks as rebellious as one of Marlon Brando’s leather-chapped biker buddies from The Wild One. 

In her speech to conference yesterday, she talked of being ‘responsible’ and keeping a ‘watchful eye’ on public spending. Talk about boring snoring!

There was an eye-popping pledge to spend an extra £28billion a year on making the country greener – about a quarter of the NHS budget. But hey, when it comes to this saving-the-planet lark, even the most prudent politicos tend to go a bit doolally.

Reeves strode on stage bang on the midday gun, hair as lustrous and shiny as a Tresemmé advert.

A few overly rehearsed arm movements thrown in early suggested a bout of media training. Too much by the looks of it. 

Also, that shuddering bassline of a voice had deliberately been hitched a few octaves higher. Gravity always wins though. Before long she was hollering away like an out-of-tune tuba.

Her outfit was deep red, but the speech oddly blue-ish. Each sentence was hedged with a bean counter’s caution. Every now and then, she chummed the waters with a few anti-Tory barbs. The Government was ‘incompetent… in denial… careless and chaotic’ – you know the stuff.

In her speech to conference yesterday, she talked of being ‘responsible’ and keeping a ‘watchful eye’ on public spending. Talk about boring snoring!

In her speech to conference yesterday, she talked of being ‘responsible’ and keeping a ‘watchful eye’ on public spending. Talk about boring snoring!

But this was no easy crowd. The sour dregs of the Corbyn era stubbornly remain. They shuffled in their seats, they fiddled with their phones.

Reeves gained better purchase paying tribute to frontline workers during the pandemic, who’d been bussed in to occupy the front row of the audience. That had the hall on their feet.

There was a laudable bid to get high street firms on side by promising to do away with business rates. A tax cut? Hopefully that’ll make a few ears prick up at the Treasury.

This was the sort of initiative that would have delighted Tory voters but sailed over most delegates’ heads.

No, instead they far preferred that sort of anti-aspirational stuff. A promise to rid private schools of their charitable status provoked throaty roars. Not from the woman next to me though. ‘That’s the politics of envy,’ she sighed.

Her outfit was deep red, but the speech oddly blue-ish. Each sentence was hedged with a bean counter’s caution. Every now and then, she chummed the waters with a few anti-Tory barbs. The Government was ‘incompetent... in denial... careless and chaotic’ – you know the stuff

Her outfit was deep red, but the speech oddly blue-ish. Each sentence was hedged with a bean counter’s caution. Every now and then, she chummed the waters with a few anti-Tory barbs. The Government was ‘incompetent… in denial… careless and chaotic’ – you know the stuff

There were cheers, too, for when Reeves vowed to recoup money wasted by the Government on dodgy PPE gear, though one suspects she’s got as much chance recovering the treasure of the Knights Templar.

On she continued, bone-achingly earnest. There was a pre-arranged gag involving her pledge to keep the George Osborne-created Office for Budget Responsibility in place (‘That must be the first time George Osborne has got a clap at a Labour conference!’) which failed to come off after no one had actually clapped.

But when you consider the biggest cheer among this audience yesterday was for a young man screaming ‘free, free Palestine!’ you get what Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour are still up against.

The star draw of this gathering was Andy Burnham. Unlike his London counterpart, Sadiq Khan, the Manchester mayor has been denied a slot on the main stage, so has been making up for this palpably deliberate snub by blitzing the fringe events.

Like his wardrobe here – dark shirt and jeans, casual trotters – Mr Burnham is playing it cool. But fortune frowns upon the gutless in this game. Should Starmer’s speech flop tomorrow, the time has surely come for Burnham to make his move.


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