It is often said that the art of political oratory is dead – killed by the very different demands of the television interview. It is certainly true that great speeches are seldom heard nowadays in the House of Commons. But this week's Labour Conference has heard three speeches of the highest order, each one different from the others. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was passionate in an almost old–fashioned way and also as tough as nails in his defence of his policies. In his visionary mode the Prime Minister captivated the Conference with a speech of light and shade and total conviction that demonstrated his uncanny ability to rise to the oratorical need of the moment. However, both Mr Brown and Mr Blair were eclipsed by Bill Clinton who delivered an hour–long speech, using only notes, of the very highest quality. Franklin D Roosevelt's wonderful way with words was frequently recalled by Mr Clinton's style.

It also happened that the former President had some sensible things to say about the Iraq situation. His insistence on the need for UN legitimacy for any action that is taken was an important reminder to Mr Blair, and his view that for the US the threat from al–Qaida should have a greater priority than Iraq should be heeded in Washington. The character and impact of Mr Clinton's speech underlined the wastefulness of the American political system which can cast a two–term President out into the political wilderness with no substantive role to play.

Ray Fleming

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