SCOTTISH VOTE BLESSING AND CURSE FOR LABOUR.
Labour’s conference in Manchester certainly didn’t feel like 1996 when the party was last preparing to take power.
Long before Ed Miliband’s blunder in “forgetting” to deliver his remarks on the economy and immigration, it was clear this gathering was not going to be the launch pad to victory. This was because the Scottish Referendum result has cast gloom not optimism across the Labour Party.
It was a victory for “no” which Labour supported but at what a price. The campaign exposed the degree to which previously loyal members in the industrial heart of Scotland (particularly Glasgow) were prepared to express their disillusionment with a party that is no longer radical enough for them. Then there were the images of Ed Miliband being jostled in a shopping mall whilst Gordon Brown showed what effective speech making was all about. Finally the referendum campaign has left Labour floundering for an answer on the English votes for English laws question.
Two last points on the Scotland vote. The high turnout wasn’t just because the question being asked was of the highest importance. Every vote mattered and was campaigned for whether it be in Kirkwall or Kilmarnock. In General Elections we have seen a growing trend for the parties to concentrate on 150 odd marginals. In the “safe” seats there is often little campaigning so it is no wonder the turnout next May could be around 65%. The other one is votes for 16/17 year olds. Ed Miliband was quite right to commit Labour to this extension of the electorate. The Scots youngsters were great. Let’s hope the other parties commit to the same proposal at a time when the issue of the prosperous old and the debt burdened young is rearing its head and needs a political voice.
LABOUR IN MANCHESTER.
So Labour delegates arrived in Manchester with a mixture of relief that Scotland was staying and concern about the trap being laid for them by the Prime Minister over English votes for English laws.
They remain ahead in the polls but can they win a majority or will they have to contemplate a deal with what’s left of the Liberal Democrats? I attended a couple of fringe meetings on that subject. There is a lot of antipathy to any deal. A Liverpool Unite delegate said the party would stop supporting Labour if such a thing happened, but there are pragmatists too.
Ed Miliband needed to make a game changing speech but failed. Both he and Ed Balls (for different reasons) are the weakness at the head of the party. However there is potential on the front bench. Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham’s idea to bring social and health care together is good. A policy well explained at conference by a man who must have another run for leader. Women like Mary Creagh, Stella Creasey and Rachel Reeves are also future stars.
This was the last Labour conference in Manchester until at least 2019. My sources suggest the city has priced itself out of the party’s reach. Liverpool have stepped in to host the next two northern conferences.
Now it is on to Birmingham and the Conservatives. You can write the lines now “Ed Miliband may have forgotten the economy but we haven’t etc”. However economic optimism is likely to be overshadowed by how the Tories deal with UKIP who could be poised for by election victories not only in Clacton but Heywood and Middleton too.