The construction industry, dressed in a black opera cloak, shiny top hat and rather unconvincing moustache, stalked into the national spotlight on Monday.
The delegates and speakers in the sweaty, packed conference hall knew exactly what response to make to this sinister figure, its pockets bulging with money filched from the local PFI orphanage milk fund.

GMB general secretary John Edmonds led the hisses. The PFI, he said, must be "reviewed" (as if the government hadn't spent the past five years doing little else) and contractors should be tied to the train tracks with their own rope for making such massive profits on contracts.

How bitterly ironic, then, that mighty Atkins, every union's idea of a dastardly PFI profiteer, not only posted a pretty disastrous trading statement, but also announced the swift departure of chief executive Robin Southwell and up to 400 of his former colleagues. And how ironic that the GMB should have chosen Southwell as the target of an ad hominem advertising campaign in the national press.

Edmonds' tirade was a pleasure compared with lecture that Paul Boateng treated us to. The chief secretary to the Treasury attempted to batter delegates about the head and neck with a list of statistics on the wonderfulness of the PFI. He continued at such stupefying length that in the end his audience showed admirable restraint in merely booing and slow handclapping him off the stage.

Amid all this confusion, the PFI found an unlikely hero: none other than UCATT's George Brumwell. Brumwell, you sensed, was playing a difficult part well. His members' jobs relied on PFI projects, but he needed to show brotherly solidarity. The original wording of the PFI motion called for a halt to projects, a demand that was later diluted to a review. Was Brumwell's hand behind the redrafting, one wonders?

All the same, Big George didn't try to convince delegates that the PFI produced civic architecture that would have made Gaudí walk into a lamppost. The point was rather that if you think it's bad now, you've forgotten how truly dreadful it used to be. Inspirational stuff, eh?