Gordon Brown's speech in Manchester was predictably leaden and uninspiring. It resembled nothing so much as a report to shareholders, perhaps by the chairman of one of the banks that has gone under recently. Equally predictably, early reaction has been dominated by those section of the speech which ostensibly attacked the Conservatives but were transparently aimed at David Miliband. "Everyone knows that I'm all in favour of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice."
Another thing struck me. Several sections of the speech were a blatant rip-off of Tony Blair's speech to the party faithful a few weeks after 9/11. Compare and contrast:
Blair, Oct 2, 2001:
In retrospect, the Millennium marked only a moment in time. It was the events of September 11 that marked a turning point in history, where we confront the dangers of the future and assess the choices facing humankind.
It is that out of the shadow of this evil, should emerge lasting good: destruction of the machinery of terrorism wherever it is found; hope amongst all nations of a new beginning where we seek to resolve differences in a calm and ordered way; greater understanding between nations and between faiths; and above all justice and prosperity for the poor and dispossessed, so that people everywhere can see the chance of a better future through the hard work and creative power of the free citizen, not the violence and savagery of the fanatic.
Brown, Sept 08:
You know, each generation believes it is living through changes their parents could never have imagined - but the collapse of banks, the credit crunch, the trebling of oil prices, the speed of technology, and the rise of Asia - nobody now can be in any doubt that we are in a different world and it's now a global age.
In truth, we haven't seen anything this big since the industrial revolution. This last week will be studied by our children - as the week the world was spun on its axis - and old certainties were turned on their heads.
And in these uncertain times, we must be, we will be, the rock of stability and fairness upon which people stand.
Round the world, 11 September is bringing Governments and people to reflect, consider and change. And in this process, amidst all the talk of war and action, there is another dimension appearing.
There is a coming together. The power of community is asserting itself. We are realising how fragile are our frontiers in the face of the world's new challenges.
Today conflicts rarely stay within national boundaries.
Today a tremor in one financial market is repeated in the markets of the world.
Today confidence is global; either its presence or its absence.
And so it falls to this party and to this government, with its commitment both to fairness and to business, to propose and deliver what after recent events everyone should now be willing to accept - that we do all it takes to stabilise the still turbulent financial markets and then in the months ahead we rebuild the world financial system around clear principles. And friends the work begins tomorrow.
...global standards and supervision because the flows of capital are global, then supervision can no longer just be national but has to be global.
And we know that the challenges we face in this new global age didn't begin in the last week, or in the last months, but in fact reflect deeper changes in our world.
This is a moment to seize. The Kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.
And here's Gordon:
And this week at Britain's request the United Nations has summoned the leaders of the world to a special summit on what we know is a global poverty emergency.
Blair's 2001 speech, in retrospect, was a monumental piece of hubris that foreshadowed the disastrous foreign policy on which he was about to embark, and whose consequences are still with us. Brown today was less obviously deranged, but he still betrayed signs of over-confidence in his ability to change the world to his liking. "I and then Alistair will meet financial and government leaders in New York to make these proposals," he said, before listing them. A five point plan for more regulation, including apparently of bonuses: "removing conflicts of interest so that bonuses should not be based on short term speculative deals but on hard work, effort and enterprise", drew predictable enthusiasm from the hall but it's far from clear how he will achieve full financial control and regulation at a global level. Especially since he has spent the past decade resisting - with some success - such regulation at the European level.
Of course, as Brown pointed out, "each generation" believes that it's living through unprecedented changes. Or perhaps that should be "each prime minister". As I mentioned the other day, though, Gordon is convinced that he has found his theme, his project and his purpose. And while he didn't explicitly compare his situation today with Blair's in 2001, it's hard to escape the conclusion that he regards it as far more serious.
For example: while Blair used to talk of terrorism as some great existential evil, the "greatest threat" facing humanity (except for the short period when that role was occupied by Saddam Hussein), Brown today mentioned terrorism only once, and that was in the past tense:
This country wasn't broken by fascism, by the cold war, by terrorists.
Which terrorists? The IRA? Al Qaeda? Both?
The "new" world whose pivotal moment came last week, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing meltdown of the world's stock markets, is not one in which terrorism seems to be much of a priority. Instead Brown talked of a "great and historic endeavour to end the dictatorship of oil and to avert catastrophic climate change, a transformation in our use of energy" and set a new, surely unobtainable, goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by the middle of the century. He talked of rising populations and migration. He mentioned the word "economy" nine times and "global" twelve. And while he Gordon Brown did, it's true, make some Blair-like noises about saving Africa and ending global poverty; but while Blair linked these things to the greater fight against extremism Brown merely saw them as an extension of the "fairness" agenda he was concentrating on at home.
It's unlikely that Gordon Brown will lead Britain during much of the new era whose dawn he has been greeting these past few days. If he isn't turfed out by his own party, he will be swept away at the next election. But that doesn't mean he is wrong to see the huge changes that the financial crisis has wrought. Only time will tell, but it could well be that the events of last week will mark the end of one era - the short seven-year decade of the War on Terror - and the true beginning of the 21st century. The Tony years are over.