Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Thursday, 1 October 2009 12:43 UK

Did conference do the trick for Brown?

Gordon Brown

By Norman Smith
Political correspondent, BBC News

"This cannot be just another bog standard conference." So said one seasoned cabinet minister at the start of this week. And yet that's pretty much what this Labour conference has been.

The party faithful have been sent home with a spring in their step; cheered by a healthy dose of banker bashing and beating up the Tories. There have been repeated calls to fight. But what there has not been, is what the Americans call "a game changer".

Nothing that has happened at this party conference is likely to change the political weather or make the electorate revise its views on Gordon Brown. Nothing that looks likely to unsettle David Cameron.

Yes, Mr Brown and his aides did their best to parade a fistful of eye-catching policies. Extra help for childcare; free social care for the elderly (those with the most severe conditions); free hospital car parking for some; and a referendum on changing the voting system.

But none of these seemed to hang together or present a coherent message.

Rhetorical device

Indeed on closer examination many of the policies unveiled - such as hostels for teenage mums and more parenting orders - were throwbacks to an earlier Blairite agenda.

Others, such as a law banning future governments from running up big deficits, sounded faintly improbable - and presumably would mean, given the current state of our national finances, that whoever wins the next election is going to be receiving an early visit from Her Majesty's Constabulary.

The one glimmer of hope for Labour at this conference came from Lord Mandelson, who in a virtuoso performance - part Severus Snape; part Frank Spencer - at least sketched out a possible Labour strategy.

The next election, he argued, would be about choice and change. The party, he said, had to be the change-makers. The insurgents.

And yet when we waited for the prime minister to sketch out what exactly the change was that Labour offered, it seemed that the change agenda, Labour's vision of the future, proved to be little more than a rhetorical device.

'Hymn to hum'

It could have been different. Labour could have taken risks. They could have deliberately chosen to shake things up.

One way would have been to try and flush David Cameron out over cuts by spelling out their own plans.

Instead Mr Brown played safe over cuts. Far from spelling out the nature of the financial constraints ahead, he promised to spend even more money. Extra cash for schools, the minimum wage, child benefit, child tax credits. The list goes on.

Of course it all went down well in the hall. The party faithful could feel reassured and reinvigorated. Foreign Secretary David Miliband claimed they could leave "with a song to sing and a hymn to hum".

But was this what was needed? It is hard to imagine David Cameron being too worried by what has basically been a safety-first week in Brighton.

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