THE BLOG

Five Things We Learned From The Labour Party Conference

26/09/2014 14:00 BST | Updated 25/11/2014 10:59 GMT

When a party conference comes to an end it is too easy simply to remember it by the impact, or otherwise, of the Leader's speech. Ed Miliband's 'so-so' performance should not mean that Labour 2014 conference should be consigned to history straight away.

By looking at what was happening on the fringe, in meetings, in the conference hall including the exhibition, and actually watching and reading the speeches delivered, you can start to see what might happen under a Labour Government led by Miliband.

It is fine to use Twitter for a running commentary on a speech but there is no substitute for watching it and seeing how the audience reacts. The speeches themselves can sometimes be a little dense and it is easy to mis-hear or mis-remember what was said.

As is the case with Miliband's speeches, the written version can vary from the one delivered. It is though rare that complete sections later appear unless is it maybe featured in the Daily Prophet.

Looking at the Labour conference, what has it shown us?

1) Business intervention is here to stay - far from being a product of the immediate aftermath of the banking crisis, a Miliband government will not be afraid to intervene directly in business. The extra money for the NHS will come from a clamp down on 'tax avoidance including tax loopholes by the hedge funds' and 'extra resources' from the tobacco companies. Miliband has previously promised action on energy companies and banks. So 2014 marked the year that Labour proved that interventions will continue to be a significant tool for them.

Now this isn't quite controlling the commanding heights of the economy but does represent a notable shift away from Blairite light touch approach.

2) The rise of the tech conference - in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum and comment that it was social media 'wot won it' (or not quite in that case), the technology firms were out in force. Long term attendees Microsoft were joined by Facebook and Google in having exhibition stands while Twitter was around as well.

Training sessions were offered which meant attendees, members and activists were shown how to use social media in campaigns. One wonders whether this new found empowerment will find favour with those trying to strictly control the messaging?

3) The upward rise of potential new leaders - names such as Rachel Reeves, Andy Burnham and, of course, the ever-suave Chuka Umunna, were reinforced at this conference as the future of the party. They continued to be the names on the lips of those at conference and their featuring in the Left Power list did them no harm at all either. With the NHS due to feature so prominently at the next election, Burnham, in particular, might benefit from all that extra public exposure.

4) The core is the key - rather than launching any big ideas, the party stuck with the one that has served them so well for nearly 70 years, the NHS. Whereas Blair took the fight out to the Conservatives on the economy and law and order, the Miliband approach is to reinforce what people trust most about Labour.

There is speculation that this is part of a '35% strategy'. The argument goes that securing this amount of the vote at an election would see the party into office. What it really means is that those advocating ideas and policies to the party need to frame them in a way that help to cement the core vote and stay with Labour's current positions. This does not appear to be the time for radicalism.

5) Looking to the future - whilst the core is the key, Miliband did edge towards a challenge to the trade unions. In a little reported part of his speech, he pledged to 'fight and deliver equal rights for the self-employed in Britain'. This shows that the party is thinking about the changing nature of the labour market and so nodded towards a recognition that it is not just about mass industries any more. This is little more than a gentle step on the toes of the Conservatives but does open up the prospect of policies for start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Highlighting these five lessons does not mean ignoring issues such as whether there will be a need for more immigration to help deliver all those new workers promised for the NHS.

The conferences remain important for those engaging with the parties but whether they have wider resonance is not clear. Maybe I'll ask Gareth or the two women in the park about that the next time I see them.