Labour Party Conference Lexcomm

23/09/2011

MILIBAND ON THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO 2015
 
As the Labour Party meets in Liverpool, Ed Miliband will seek to capitalise on the boost he received earlier in the summer when he led from the front on ‘hackgate’. Yet with his personal poll ratings below those of David Cameron there is a deep rooted uncertainty in the party about his performance. Coupled with the party’s perceived lack of economic credibility at a time of deepening economic unease, Ed Miliband has a tricky week ahead and it will suit him just fine if observers complain that the conference is dull and uneventful.
 
Miliband needs to establish his authority as a Prime Minister in waiting and will do all he can to avoid any gaffes or potentially humiliating photo opportunities. He will also attempt a rapprochement with those in the party who would have preferred to see his brother as leader. Given David received a majority of the votes of the Parliamentary and constituency party in the leadership election, Ed has a significant proportion of the party to still win over. A few rumours swirl about the return of a New Labour big beast in a post conference reshuffle, which might help to reassure his doubters that he is willing to learn the lessons of the success from the Blair years.
 
Calling it on the economy

As always, the party in Opposition will spend more time attacking the Government than establishing their own message, and Labour will accuse the Government of calling it wrong on the economy.  Ed Balls will denounce Chancellor George Osborne for being in hock to his allies in the City, intent on the abolition of the 50p tax rate and of kicking reforms of the banking system in to the long grass while cutting public sector jobs and hitting ‘hard working families’.
 
The question is to what extent Labour’s attack on the Coalition’s economic policies will resonate.  While Labour is the most trusted party to protect public services, recent polls suggest that Labour’s economic credibility is on the slide and they will have to show they understand that public spending needs to be reined in.  
 
Ed Balls will be watched closely to see if he deviates from his economic argument which has failed to convince a sceptical public.  The scope of his conference speech will also be revealing.  He may grasp the opportunity to assume a leadership position on issues outside of his remit ahead of Miliband’s speech the next day.
 
Taking on the Coalition

It will be interesting to see how the Labour leadership couch their attacks on the Coalition.  It is likely they will be relatively warm to the Liberal Democrat left, including the likes of Tim Farron, who Labour will view as a potential ally in any future Coalition negotiation.  Nick Clegg is guaranteed to be in the firing line following his conference speech which included a personal ‘no time for the backroom boys’ attack on Miliband and Balls.  
 
The conference will be heavily focused on internal party matters. Delegates will endorse Ed Miliband’s decision to abolish Shadow Cabinet elections fuelling rumours in the bars about the likely winners and losers in a post conference reshuffle. Miliband will avoid a head on confrontation with the unions but will seek to show his independence with vocal support of academies and a call for strike action to be avoided. 
 
Broad policies emerging

Four documents are expected to be published as a staging post for the party’s policy review which will incorporate broad themes rather than offer specific policy solutions. As such they are unlikely to receive much in the way of media interest. Progress, the self-styled New Labour pressure group, has attempted to get a head start on the policy development process with the publication of the ‘Purple Book’, containing policy chapters from Labour MPs who behind the scenes are unconvinced about Ed Miliband’s leadership. Miliband has written the foreword but the policies put forward, which coalesce around the idea of ‘Leaving the Big State behind’, do not sit naturally with his approach. 
 
Ideas are clearly needed but at this stage competence and electability are more important. The party will not persevere with another leader who cannot deliver at the ballot box and Ed Miliband will have to deliver a convincing performance in his speech on Tuesday and persuade his party and the wider electorate that he is capable of providing a better alternative to the Coalition. 
 
LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE DIARY

Sunday
• Ed Miliband’s supporters including Chuka Umunna and Peter Hain gather for the Compass Rally at 6pm
 
Monday
• Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, delivers his speech to conference at 12 noon
• Steve Richards interviews Ed Balls for an RSA/Independent event at 5:45pm
 
Tuesday

• Party leader, Ed Miliband, delivers his keynote speech at 3pm
• IPPR ask if Labour can win in 2015 with Douglas Alexander and Stella Creasy at 5:30pm
 
Wednesday
• Ed Miliband answers questions from delegates in a Q&A in the conference hall at 5.30pm

Thursday
• Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, brings conference to a close at 11am
 
LIBERAL DEMOCRAT CONFERENCE HIGHS AND LOWS
 
Good week
• Overall, the conference was good for the leadership team who appeared fairly united behind Nick Clegg and realistic about the opportunities and limitations of their role in Government.
• Vince Cable gave a curmudgeonly but well received ‘grey skies’ speech on the economy and his bizarre reference to the Tory right ‘sending children up chimneys’ played well in the hall.

• Conference seemed to reinvigorate Nick Clegg and his keynote speech was, like the conference, fairly low key but focused and statesmanlike.
 
Bad week
• The party membership were disappointed with the paucity of big announcements. Danny Alexander’s 2,000 extra tax inspectors and Nick Clegg’s £50m summer school were not seen as groundbreaking policies to woo the voters.

• Children and Families Minister, Sarah Teather, has risen up the list of likely reshuffle casualties with a cringe making turn including a number of very poor taste jokes about her coalition colleagues.
 
Good week…then bad week
• Illustrating the dangers of pursuing a leadership campaign during conference, Party President Tim Farron started the week with a raucously received speech, looking ahead to a Coalition divorce. Over the course of the week he was shot down by senior colleagues, including Vince Cable, and his poor performances in subsequent media interviews left him looking exposed.


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