The highlight of this year's Labour conference was not Blair's 'I'm sorry everyone - sorry for being right all the time!' speech, but the heartfelt contribution from St Bono of Bat Cave.
Bono's speech was good stuff, certainly compared to the waffle spouted by Blair, who increasingly sounds like one of those 'Positivise Yourself For Business Success' tapes beloved of middle-management plodders. Bono pointed out that 'Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice. Africa makes a fool of our idea of
Couldn't agree more, Bono. It's a shame he then went on to compare Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. 'To me they are the John and Paul of the global development stage,' he said. To which we can only say: WHAT THE FUCKING HELL DOES THAT MEAN? (And if Blair and Brown have secretly formed a band, do they play 'Killing an Arab'?)
However, Bono wasn't there to suck up to New Labour. Highlighting the connection between poverty and terrorism, he said: 'Surely it's better to make friends out of potential enemies than to defend yourself against them later?'
And thus Bono neatly summed up the entire conference. In lots and lots of ways, New Labour are good eggs. Whatever you may think about the relentless New Labour spin, or the endless contradictions in New Labour's overall philosophy, which seems to veer between utopian and draconian, they appear to be trying to do the right thing.
Except when they do the wrong thing. The big questions hanging over the conference were whether it would be dominated by Iraq (it wasn't), and whether Iraq could scupper Labour's chances in the next election.
The general consensus, supported by polls, seems to be that Labour will win the next election. This seems quite likely for two reasons:
1) Iraq will recede as an issue, particularly with Labour strategists gearing up to campaign on domestic issues; and
2) The Tories are still the Tories.
For many people, voting Tory just isn't an option. Despite various attempts by Hague, IDS and Howard to modernise, you know there's still a significant part of the Tory party that is sexist, racist and homophobic. Leaving aside PC considerations, the Tories also remain the party of business. You don't have to be a Yorkshire miner to be worried about working conditions in 2004, where job insecurity, short-term contracts, low wages and creeping downsizing are making white collar jobs every bit as desirable as life down t'pit.
The Tories also insist on repeatedly dancing with the Devil in his guise of the Daily Mail. Voters don't have to be particularly left-wing to grow a little weary of increasingly farcical propaganda about asylum seekers, fox hunting, dole skivers, crime waves and those filthy fucking foreigners who still won't go away, despite two World Wars and the Falklands.
Certainly some people have already dismissed the Tories. Writing in the Guardian, Roy Hattersley, who is not a New Labour loyalist, made the following comment about the Tories and their confused anti-Europe stance:
'The one thing to be said in [John] Redwood's favour is that he remains true to the greatest of all Conservative traditions - swimming against the tide of history. Over the next 20 years (about the time it will take for the Tories to become realistic contenders again) Europe will become more integrated, not less.'
Terribly witty, we're sure, but does it make sense to dismiss the Tories as an electoral force?
Not really. Looking ahead to the next election, we have to remember that there are a lot of people who can be mobilised (should that be 'drip-fed with hatred?') by the right-wing press. From Labour's point of view, it's also worth considering that the scenario of New Labour thrashing an enfeebled Tory party by campaigning on a domestic agenda may not materialise.
The idea that people will magically have forgotten about the war come the next election is highly questionable. And even if they don't bother to make a protest vote, it's entirely likely that Iraq will have a different sort of impact on Labour's election chances. Erstwhile Labour voters may not vote Lib Dem or Tory, they may just not bother to vote at all.
So here's the political picture for the next election: a 'Labour' party that's banking on people just getting bored with the war, a Tory party that will probably benefit from a pitifully low turn-out, and a third party that's been resurrected because we hate the other two.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: British politics, it's edifying stuff.