Dinosaurs, political cross-dressing and requests to kiss the leader – Labour had a good conference, one which set many minds at ease about the direction the Party is heading.
Sandwiched between the Lib Dems and Conservatives, the Labour conference always has the air of a marathon about it. Starting with the Women’s conference on Saturday, Labour faithful were gathered in Manchester for a total of 6 days, something which leads many journalists, activists and MPs alike to grumble, probably due to being crammed together in a small space for so long.
Arriving at the conference on the Monday, the weather was overcast which seemed apt considering how flat the general mood was. Midway through the Parliament it was never likely to get any big ticket policy announcements, the polls seemed fine and speculation over the leadership was long gone. All seemed well, which begged the question what the ‘point’ of the conference was.
Then came Tuesday – the day of Ed Miliband’s major speech. This came to the heart of what he and the party really needed from the conference, namely a compelling vision of what the next Labour Government would be like without the theoretical mumbo jumbo he so often speaks. He needed to tell his story to the public and, more importantly, get it and the chattering classes of Her Majesty’s Press Corps comfortable with the idea of him as a Prime Minister.
What followed was a speech which managed the impossible, uniting Fraser Nelson of the Spectator and Unite’s Len McLuskey in praise for what was widely seen as Miliband’s best ever speech. Some perhaps hapless fools even suggested it was in parts better than one Tony Blair could have delivered.
We had it all as Miliband took us on a tour de force – the advice he’d received from his son about including dinosaurs in the speech – ‘long were the days of Labour’s “big beast”’ I thought; his family history and introducing his English teacher, Mr Dunne who presumably taught him the meaning of the word pre-distribution (if so, we could probably all be enlightened on that one).
As Miliband approached the heart of the speech, quoting Disraeli (who never used the phrase), Miliband used the words “One Nation”, a phrase which appeared a 46 times in the speech. “One Nation: a country where everyone has a stake. One Nation: a country where prosperity is fairly shared. One Nation: where we have a shared destiny, a sense of shared endeavour and a common life that we lead together” he said. It sounded like a read out of the party’s mission statement from the back of the party’s membership cards and either an audacious attempt to steal the mantra from the Conservatives or a wolf dressing himself up in sheep’s clothes – the voters will have to decide that one.
So with not a speech or lectern in sight we had a presentation that was less weakest link and more strictly come dancing as One Nation Miliband slid from left to right across the stage, at some points getting precariously close to the edge. And throughout, his beady panda eyes seemed fixated at the roof, presumably a signal to the party that it either needed to aim high or that there was a leak somewhere. As he progressed onto attacking the Government “shower”, you could sense delegates wanting more which in acting terms is exactly where you want your audience to be at the end.
The Q&A session provided the sealing proof that Labour Party members have come to love their leader and put the David/Ed leadership soap opera behind it. Somewhat resembling a bad episode of blind date, one Welsh delegate complaining that Ed hadn’t “kissed her yet”, but that he “kissed Barbara last night and I’m very jealous” were met with laughter that filled the conference hall and a sense of relief that now, at last, the Party could seriously contemplate being back in Government by 2015.
All-in-all, Labour members felt that they were back on track – which delegates were quick to note is a much better position than the West Coast mainline at the moment.