Labour in Liverpool….
It is fitting that Labour is having it’s conference in Liverpool this year. In the north Labour has started to claw it’s way back, mainly at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. People who deserted Labour in disenchantment at the direction of the Blair/Brown years have had their trust soundly betrayed by their ex Lib Dem suitors and naturally enough, people are returning home. However, we need to avoid committing the sin of complacency, taking people for granted is something Labour became too good at in government and in opposition it is definitely something to be avoided. The hard times, the lean times that years in opposition always are should remind Labour of the value of a strong core for without one, a blip can become a terminal slide into political oblivion.
Ed Miliband, in many ways, has a bigger job in Liverpool than the actual Party does. He had a good innings over Hackgate but since then the feeling of drift and unease has returned. His enemies on the right, the Blairites, seem to have abandoned a strategy of directly attacking him and now seem determined to make mischief by meddling in his relationship with Ed Balls. Furthermore, they seem determined to eradicate any vestiages of a Keynesian approach to the crisis and this is the new focus of all their efforts. Douglas Alexander’s pre-conference of interview in The Guardian is a good example of this new strategic orientation by the Blairites. We should defend Balls over this especially and need to support him in articulating a better approach to the trade unions than Mr Miliband has shown.
Mr Miliband has other problems as well. It is absolutely true, both anecdotaly and from polling evidence in my eyes that he has failed to convince people that he is an able leader with a clear vision of where he wants Britain to go. This all means peoples tolerance for rhetoric or policy they dont like is much diminished. I would be just as angry about his attacks on the unions were he roaring ahead in the polls but the fact that he isnt compounds that anger because it seems even more pointless investing in him. The blunt fact is that consistently the poll ratings of the Party leaders are a better guide to their respective party’s electoral prospects than the ratings the Party themselves receive. If people can’t imagine/dont want Ed as Prime Minister then Labour won’t win the next election, it really is as simple as that.
A final word has to be said about Refounding Labour, which has epitomised the dichotomy between rhetoric and delivery under this leadership. I remain hopeful that Conference will, if not flatly reject the document then at least remit it for further consideration by the Party. I wish Labour well in Liverpool. I wish I was there. We have big challenges ahead of us both as a Party and as individuals within that Party, and ultimately, even if individuals like Ed Miliband cannot rise to the occasion then I am sure the Party will.