Labour Party Conference 2011: A Chance To Claw Back Credibility
Ambitiously titled ‘fulfilling the promise of Britain’, the Labour party’s annual conference is their chance to claw back credibility.
It comes after a week of hearing about Labour’s failures. The Liberal Democrats spent a large proportion of their annual conference undermining the opposition party, which most notably saw Nick Clegg refer to leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls as “backroom boys”.
But the coming week in Liverpool, on the anniversary of Ed Miliband’s shock victory over his brother David, is the party’s chance to prove them wrong.
Amid an escalating economic crisis, Miliband may want to use the conference as an opportunity not only to further define himself as a leader, but to discuss policies which could help Britain.
Former aide Alex Smith says inside the leader’s suite Miliband’s team will be “harried and nervous” as the pressure mounts.
“They know this is an opportunity for their man: to lay down the narrative of a recast party under Ed Miliband, on the side of the people versus the establishment, and Labour might get another hearing from the public before 2015.
“Failure to do so, on the economy in particular, and questions about Miliband and Labour's ability to lead will inevitably surface again.”
And for TUC head Brendan Barber, Labour’s challenge this year is to begin to “build the case for an alternative to the current government’s economic strategy, which is unravelling faster than feared.”
Others would be happy with something more simple. One Labour MP, when asked what he wanted from conference, dryly noted: “a policy.” Another simply said it was time to “start putting the flesh on the bones of the policy review”.
But what of the mood over Miliband himself?
Smith said the bitterness of the leadership conference is behind Labour, and this year the mood will be lighter than in 2010, when the party establishment were reeling from Miliband’s shock victory.
While the parliamentary Labour Party may now be largely united behind Miliband, conference will allow us to see how far that extends to Labour members. Until then detractors and critics in other parties will continue to point to his weaknesses.
Baroness Warsi provided the most accurate summary of his flaws: “[He has] no plan for economy; in hock to the unions; and with his own side in disarray, this has not been a strong start to Ed Miliband's leadership. The big question now: can he step up to the plate next year?”
Like last year, the drama at the Labour party conference will be at the beginning.
On Sunday afternoon, members are preparing to vote on a range of measures stemming from the Refounding Labour consultation – most notably, a reform that will allow non-members to vote in leadership elections as registered supporters.
The changes have been labelled as the most radical reform of the party in two decades, and as an audacious attempt to curb the influence of trade unions over the party by stealth. Typically for the Labour party, they’ve been decried by equally dedicated members for either going too far, or not going far enough.
MP Tom Watson flatly denies they are about curbing the unions, saying if that was the case he would oppose it himself. “Frankly, there are people in the party who have been trying to cut the link by stealth for the past 15 years. That’s been unacceptable. I genuinely don’t think what’s on offer for registered supported is anything like that.”
A senior Labour source told the Huffington Post UK the reforms are all part of Ed Miliband’s work to force his party to “look outwards,” and begin to “open up the party more.”
But, as editor of Labour grassroots website LabourList Mark Ferguson says, the reaction to the reforms will be telling. If they go smoothly, it will be “a sign of how happy the party are with Ed’s leadership.”