There has been a flat atmosphere this week at the Labour Party Conference. New and exciting policy announcements have been few and far between, there has been very little to galvanise the grassroots eight months before a general election. It is likely that the most memorable announcements from Manchester this week will be Ed Ball's plans to commit to no borrowing for capital spending and to extend freezes on child benefit. Not exactly policies to create a triumphant mood that will carry Miliband into office.
This conference is the last before the general election, it is the conference of the party leading the polls and expected to have at least a plurality in the Commons in 2015. One would assume the mood would be one of anticipation, waiting for that last major policy that would propel Labour into office. At the start of conference there was that expectation, but as the week has gone on, expectation levels have dropped along with the mood. Gloomy would be harsh, because there is still a quiet expectation of Ed being in Number 10 come May. Flat would be a more apt description, because despite this optimism, there is little energy or excitement.
When Blair swept to power in 1997, the Labour party had a swagger; the party lifted the mood of a nation as it powered its way to a landslide victory. Even the Conservatives inspired a minor uplift in the national mood, and a major one in their party, before the 2010 election - with Cameron providing a charismatic, but insincere, alternative to Gordon Brown. Ed and his party do not have the same sense of national optimism behind the, Labour feel like a party expecting to enter government on the back of the unpopularity of the Tories rather than on the back of their own message.
Now, that is not to say Labour's message is not a good one. Investment in the NHS, a rising minimum wage and a commitment to opportunities for young people are all great policies, and are resonate well with the activists here at conference. These polices are not, however, particularly exciting, radical or attention grabbing. Labour are the party of the NHS, so a boost in investment will not surprise the public, even if it does satisfy the members. The rise in the minimum wage is below that the Greens promote, and seems to be a fudge instead of a living wage - so, the rise will not be the great motivating policy that may have been hoped. Committing to the futures of young people in the way Ed has could well prove to be one of his lasting legacies in office, but it is not a sexy policy, it won't turn heads and attract many voters to defect to Labour.
Labour Leader, Ed Miliband
What was needed in Ed's speech wasn't the solid union of the policies Labour has announced in a trickle over the past few years. Instead, conference needed a policy to really excite the party and the public, to really kickstart the campaign for 2015 with a bang. Mark Ferguson (editor of Labour List), said in a panel following the speech that he wanted an idea that would give him an emphatic answer to the question 'Why should I vote Labour?', a very common question on the doorstep. Instead, we have policies people have heard before, or Balls' commitment to further spending restrictions. In the run up to the election, we need something new to say, something which will resonate with voters, not just the Labour faithful. That is the only way we will win well in 2015, to not just combat the gloom of the Tories, but to provide a message of change and hope to the nation. It is a shame that during this conference, that message has been muted.
Yes, the conference in Manchester has had a certain air of expectation that Labour will win in 2015. There is not, however, the excitement that one would expect at the Labour conference preceding their entry to government, and Miliband's speech did not inspire in the way a man giving his last speech as Leader of the Opposition should do. The economic policies are not what the grassroots want, nor what the nation wants. An alternative to austerity would have galvanised the grassroots in their fight in 2015, more radical ideas in other areas would have sufficed too. Unfortunately, all we have been given is muted optimism, watered down hope and the feeling Labour will be governing by default due to Tory unpopularity rather than due to their own achievements in opposition.
We wanted more Ed, we a speech to lift the mood of conference, and of the nation. A speech that our 2015 campaign can be build upon, and sadly, that lift was missing.
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