THE BLOG
25/09/2011 20:05 BST | Updated 25/11/2011 05:12 GMT

Labour Conference - Silence is Golden?

Last year's Labour Party Conference was defined by an exciting leadership election and a surprise victory for Ed Miliband. What has been a pretty mediocre year, however, for Labour will leave many to conclude that this year's gathering will be something of a damp squib.

Last year's Labour Party Conference was defined by an exciting leadership election and a surprise victory for Ed Miliband. What has been a pretty mediocre year, however, for Labour will leave many to conclude that this year's gathering will be something of a damp squib.

The party faithful, though, are arriving in Liverpool looking for some clear focus on what Labour stands for in 2011 and beyond. The Conference slogan Fulfilling the Promise of Britain doesn't really do it.

The mood so far seems to be one of outward optimism underpinned by hidden gloom. As always, though, the Party will endeavour to stick together and present a united front. Ed will make a good speech and there will be some star turns - but the real focus must be on modernisation and renewal.

Unless Labour look like they are finding their feet this week many will wonder if the Party can win power in 2015 or whether it will be out of commission for two terms or longer. It is reasonable to suggest that, in its post-government era, Labour are struggling to form a clear identity and need greater definition and clarity if Ed Miliband is to have a hope of getting close to winning a General Election.

The threat for Labour is that an inward-looking Conference does not make for good copy. By and large, the Lib Dems kept their discipline last week, refusing to give the circling media hordes any particularly juicy bones to chew on. This week the media, scenting blood, will be seeking out the inevitable conflicts that take place at every Labour Party conference I have ever attended.

Without the presentation of a compelling united message and common thread, the Party risks being portrayed in the media as out of touch with real public concerns. Ed needs not only to address internal challenges head-on whilst maintaining party unity, but at the same time provide enough sparks to make the public sit up and take notice. This is a difficult juggling act for anyone to pull-off.

No Conference is complete without whispers of a tussle over the leadership and all eyes will be looking to the two Eds to make the right noises about the big issue - the economy. A focus on the economy will, of course, give Ed B plenty of opportunity to upstage Ed M.

With growing political support for his proposed VAT cut - notably from some senior Lib Dems - and his blunt, combative approach more conducive to the atmosphere of conference, it may be Ed Balls who gets all the best lines before Ed Miliband even hits the podium.

The receptions and parties may not be as raucous as I am used to, and a quiet party conference might go against any party's obvious instincts. But it will provide an opportunity for Labour to take stock, revitalise the membership, regroup and move forward. There is no such thing as a quiet Labour Party Conference and this will be no different - although I suspect that 2011 may just be remembered for being a slightly more somber and predictable affair.