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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 September 2007, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Now for the really big question
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

The Labour conference started with election fever simmering away nicely - by the end of it, less than a week later, it had reached boiling point.

Gordon Brown and Tony Blair
Mr Blair was barely mentioned at conference
So, whatever his real election intention may be, as far as Gordon Brown is concerned it was "job done".

This rally had two overriding objectives - firstly to keep the Tories on the back foot with ministerial and prime ministerial performances that stoked speculation of a snap poll.

And secondly to draw a mile-wide line under the Blair years to prove this was a new regime with new ideas and a new leader who would provide all "the change the country needs" whenever that poll does come.

Moving on

Tony Blair was virtually air-brushed from Labour history during this event.

He warranted only the briefest of mentions - two paragraphs in Gordon Brown's speech - and often in the same breath as other former leaders like Neil Kinnock, who was reduced to tears at the tribute paid to him by the new prime minister.

David Miliband
Mr Miliband talked repeatedly of moving on

The ex-prime minister (is there anything more "ex" than a prime minister apart from, perhaps, a pop singer) had decided to stay away from this event.

Tony Blair, like the Labour Party, has "moved on". Many doubt they will ever see him here again.

And anyone who doubted that Gordon Brown was moving on needed only to listen to announcements from Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who used the expression four times in his speech, and security minister Tony McNulty.

Mr Miliband tore up large sections of Mr Blair's interventionists, US-shoulder-rubbing foreign policy and continued Mr Brown's move to place the emphasis in Iraq and Afghanistan on reconstruction and reconciliation.

Mr McNulty unceremoniously binned Mr Blair's view the 7 July London bombings had "changed the rules" and meant the balance between security and civil liberties needed to be reassessed.

Not the point

Much of it can, so far, only be described as talk. And it remains to be seen whether it is translated into policy changes.

For example, what will actually change in Iraq or Afghanistan, and will plans to extend detention without trial for terror suspects now be abandoned?

London bus bomb
London bombings did not change the rules of the game
And when Justice Secretary Jack Straw talked about protecting people who defend themselves against intruders, there was no suggestion the existing laws were actually going to be changed.

But that really wasn't the point. This rally was all about mood music, tone and, it must be said, spin.

So when Gordon Brown spoke of how brilliantly Britain had responded to crises like the floods, foot and mouth, failed bombings and Northern Rock, everyone picked up the message - it was he who had been "tested and not found wanting".

Similarly when he and other ministers unveiled lengthy lists of policy initiatives, it didn't take too much probing to discover the vast majority of them were reheated or previously-announced policies. But it sounded like a manifesto.

Running scared

The truth is, Mr Brown had this conference eating out of his hand. He even saw one poll suggesting his lead over David Cameron was growing.

And there was hardly a murmur when the prime minister offered more right-wing rhetoric in a bid to woo Tory voters and party members into his big tent.

All of this, inevitably, played into the speculation of an early poll - even before the revelation that key figures had been brought in to Labour HQ from their day jobs to plan for a poll.

So what started off, perhaps, as a good wheeze to keep his opponents guessing had, by the end of the rally, turned into a genuine dilemma - raising the tantalising question of whether Mr Brown might fall victim to his own tactical success.

With even ministers now claiming there is an 80% chance of a snap poll, if Mr Brown waits until after the Conservative Party conference and then - no matter how that event turns out for David Cameron - fails to call the election, will he face accusations of running scared?

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