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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Bill's seaside show
Kevin Spacey and Cherie Blair take in the speech

It was all kind of fun, Bill Clinton said as he held Labour delegates in awe in the Winter Gardens.

"I don't get to do this anymore."


When I see him speak, I thank the Lord he is on my side

Tony Blair
President Clinton had breezed into Blackpool, grabbed a burger and then schmoozed a starstruck Labour conference with his Hollywood pal Kevin Spacey.

How things change. Where once Labour conference would have come to life via a screaming contribution from a protest badge-clad delegate, now they whoop and cheer the arrival of a movie superstar.

Where once an announcement from the conferences arrangement committee would have ignited fierce passions, now a former US president does the trick.

Medley

Out on the town the previous evening, President Clinton had popped out to McDonald's with his Oscar winning friend.

Who is awe of whom?
It was the talk of conference all day. Until of course, it was time for the main event.

Cannon and Ball are on at the end of the Pier. But on Wednesday, the only show in town was the Clinton experience.

There was a certain sense of over-excitement as the hall filled up to a medley of mood music from Beautiful Day to Dancing in the Moonlight to Uptown Girl, which must have been some kind of mistake.

Sod private finance initiatives, composite motions and plenary sessions, you could hear them thinking - when does Bill come on?

Even the warm up man - one Tony Blair - received wild applause and another standing ovation. Maybe they were hoping for another father-in-law joke.

Power

But the gag was about President Clinton instead: "When I see him speak, I thank the Lord he is on my side."


I am trying to imagine what in the world I am doing here

Bill Clinton
And then with a salute, a smile and a standing ovation, the main man of the day swaggered on to the stage.

"I am trying to imagine what in the world I am doing here," he said. "I've never been to Blackpool before. I like the city and I love the weather."

All enough to make a tourist board official faint with delight.

The self-described "spouse of an elected official who no longer has a shred of power", then delighted his audience with a spot of political solidarity.

Heart

"It's fun to be in a place where our crowd is still in office."

One day McDonald's, Labour conference the next
With Clinton's bodyguards - mainly drawn from the cast of The Sopranos by the looks of it - watching on the sidelines, there was glowing praise for Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

Of the prime minister's conference speech, he said: "I hope I will be able to give a speech like that when I grow up."

Hand on his heart and the other other in his pocket, it was a mixture of emotional appeal and trademark relaxed charm with a twinkle-in-the-eye.

And most of it was serious stuff. On Iraq in particular, President Clinton said Saddam should be given just one last chance via a new UN resolution.

'There for you'

You were with us on Kosovo, he told delegates, when there was no UN resolution and the US and the UK went in anyway to tackle Slobodan Milosevic.

You were with us on Iraq in the past, he said, reminding delegates that the west was "not blameless" in Saddam's continuing hold on power.

And it works both ways, he said. On Northern Ireland "we were there for you".

But he also urged support for the UN for the time being - "don't cross bridges we would rather not cross".

And he urged those delegates tempted to indulge in anti-Americanism - a "delicate" subject, he admitted - to think again.

Humanity

Because, he said, when it comes to George Bush's Republicans, "I disagree with them on nearly everything".

Essentially, the US can't run the world alone but the UK, US and Europe together could set the pace on creating a "common humanity", he said.

He probably spoke for too long in the sweltering hall - but unlike Tony Blair avoided breaking into a sweat.

Yet few delegates were distracted from a man who has become a New Labour hero.

Glow

With Mr Blair watching from the platform, for some question was, is the prime minister in awe of Clinton, or is it now the other way round?

One over-enthusiastic was clearly over-awed as he jumped on the stage and tried to take photographs before being bundled from the stage and expelled from the conference.

But Bill didn't seem to mind as he soaked up the rapturous applause.

And as the conference hall slowly emptied, there was no doubt that the former US president's appearance had left a glow around the place.

New Labour might disappoint some of their delegates sometimes, frustrate them, irritate them - but as Bill might say, they sure put on a good show.

And next time Tony Blair needs a few delicate messages delivering, he'll know what to do - just bring in Bill.

 WATCH/LISTEN
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Bill Clinton
Click to watch his speech to the Labour conference

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02 Oct 02 | Politics
02 Oct 02 | Politics
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