Posts Tagged ‘Labour conference 2012’

The Sunday review: conference season

14/10/2012, 08:00:33 AM

by Anthony Painter

The two main parties have raised their game. Admittedly, this wasn’t difficult after last year but it is the case nonetheless. Conference season 2012 has defined the 2015 fight and was, unusually, consequential. The Liberal Democrats sunk without a trace. We now have a traditional fight between a party of enterprise and individualism and a party of the people taking on unjust elites. There is real choice in politics again.

On their own terms both Ed Miliband and David Cameron delivered very good speeches. The script for Labour’s conference was that its leader would deliver another vague, unfocused, holier-than-thou address. He didn’t. It had a clear and appealing message and it re-defined him as a political voice with an ability to cut through.

Equally, the script for the Conservative conference was that, having failed to establish a convincing economic recovery, the party would simply shift back into 2001/2005 mode. In fairness, the party did shunt right with all the old classics on abortion, the right to shoot at will, human rights and fantasies about workers being traded as if they were grains of wheat. Its leader did something different: he articulated a centre-right vision of the mainstream; one that is recognisable from the Thatcher years. It was full of many of the same bogeymen: intellectuals, teaching unions, the work-shy, and so on. But its aspiration nation message is a mainstream one nonetheless.


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Practical policy for Labour from the Small Business Forum conference fringe

12/10/2012, 11:19:09 AM

by Philip Ross

The Labour Small Business Forum is a network of Labour members and supporters who work for themselves or in a small business. We recently held a fringe at Labour party conference with a simple goal: to not just to talk round the issues but highlight some practical proposals for the party for small business, proposed by small business.

We had the best SME line up at conference with around 50 people attending. After my introduction in which I stressed the importance of modernising the way we work and supporting emerging firms and freelance working, John Walker the national chairman of the Federation of Small Business picked up on comments about IR35.

This regulation, which means freelancers who work for one client are treated as an employee for tax purposes, despite not having the same rights as an employee, has long been an issue for contractors.

John agreed that it was a complicated and unwieldy tax that has not been resolved and was a bar for going into business. He went on to reiterate the familiar problems that small businesses have with getting hold of finance from the banks. Confidence in financial institutions is a problem and he made reference to the mis-selling of interest rate swaps to many of his members.

As a policy call he suggested that it was hard for small firms to initially grow and take on people and backed an NI holiday for firms that did this, in line with the party’s policy.

He was followed by Dr Jo Twist of the UKIE (the trade association for the UK’s games industry), her points neatly dovetailed with his as she talked about the phenomena of crowd-funding which was a way that investors could lend to companies directly using the internet as a platform and thereby circumnavigating the banks.


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A pretty good conference Ed, but neglect your party at your peril

03/10/2012, 02:40:32 PM

by Rob Marchant

It’s been a pretty good conference. It started on Sunday with both Miliband and Balls saying sensible, pleasingly non-contradictory things on splitting the banks and a bottom-up spending review (if only Harriet Harman had got the memo).

If we merely smile patiently at Len McCluskey’s “throw out the Blairites” sabre-rattling, and nod appreciatively at Miliband’s firmness in rebutting them, there was really only one cloud on Sunday’s horizon: the mad decision – for it is difficult to describe it as anything else – by the party to extend the quotas in its already-contorted selection processes for MPs. A bewildered delegate might have been forgiven for having missed the part where it was proven beyond doubt that their usually painfully right-on party was systematically trying to block gay, disabled and working class people from being candidates. But more of that later.

Balls on Monday was on good form, doing everything in his power to look like a Brown Mk I Iron Chancellor rather than a flare-wearing tax-and-spender from the 70s: perhaps less policy specifics than we might like, but a solid, combative performance nevertheless.

Then yesterday there was the very smart enlisting of Seb Coe to spread a bit of Olympic love, with the added benefit of leaving an impression that was centrist, non-partisan and statesmanlike. And finally there was the speech. It could have been a repeat of last year’s conference: a much-mocked, divisive and rather inward-looking speech – it wasn’t. Yes, it was occasionally cheesy, but it was a Miliband far more at ease with himself. He isn’t great with a teleprompter, but he really was without notes.

It was a speech which reached out to country rather than party; which tapped the Danny Boyle moment of the Olympics opening ceremony; and which rather effectively rubbed salt in Cameron’s wounds. It was the speech of a man who has woken up halfway into a parliamentary term and realised that if he is serious about winning, then he needs to, er, get serious about winning.

It was low on policy, admittedly, and that could yet be a problem – the next one will be eighteen months from an election. But it was a hugely more assured delivery, and that counted for a lot. Most of all, with its blue background, its quoting of Disraeli and its one nation theme – the imagery all screamed “centre ground”, a clear pre-requisite for looking like a prime minister.

After all, as Paul Richards cleverly noted, Disraeli is what Miliband wants to be – a British, Jewish PM.

At last: the penny-drop realisation of what many of us have been patiently repeating for the last two years: you do not have to be a quasi-Tory to believe that it is essentially Tory, and not Liberal, switchers who will win Labour an election. A very good speech, and perhaps even a great one.

In fact, the whole conference nicely gave the lie to what the Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh said about Miliband’s party on Monday morning: that it was “irrelevant, pointless and doomed”. But, two-and-a-half years in, where does that all leave us? In good shape, or is it true that, as Matthew Norman suggests, our “half-time lead counts for nothing”?

Well, yes and no. We are in the game now whereas, a year ago, we really weren’t. But if you want to be prime minister, you need to cover a few bases. You need a credible policy programme. A credible front bench team behind you. An electoral machine capable of maximising your support in the country. And people need to be able to connect with you, visualise you as Prime Minister, but even that can be worked on (it’s practice, like everything: Harold Wilson, who became renowned for his wit, was famously “not funny” as a junior politician).

But there is a but,. Kavanagh was quite right about one thing: the state of his party is one of the biggest things which stands between Miliband and Number 10, if only he could see it. All the others he is aware of, and mostly trying to address. But not this.


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Conference diary

03/10/2012, 02:17:08 PM

Having been described as “the real deputy prime minister” when he was serving Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell has always appeared content not to follow in his boss’ footsteps and take up a place on Westminster’s green benches.

But at a fringe meeting on behalf of charity Addiction Dependency Solutions at the Royal Exchange Theatre the other night he didn’t rule out doing so in future.

The king of spin also revealed local party panjandrums urged him to stand for the London Mayoral nomination last time around before it became a face-off between Ken and Oona King.

Are we going to see Campbell take the plunge next time? As a lifelong devotee of its football team, who better to take the marginal Burnley seat from Lib Dem incumbent, self-syled “Mr Burnley” Gordon Birtwistle?


Someone who is running for the Labour nomination for London mayor is Christian Wolmar. The doyenne of transport journalists (ok, struggling to think of any others) has recently launched his bid and has been wasting no time putting himself around the conference fringe.

He was in action at the Pragmatic Radicalism fringe meeting on Monday night where speakers had 90 seconds to pitch a policy idea before taking questions from the floor in a lively session chaired by the Guardian’s veteran political commentator Michael White.

Wolmar’s call for “a visionary transport system for London” faced questioning from the merry crowd in the Lass O’Gowrie pub, but frustrated by some wag asking a daft question he batted it aside.

“That is not what you do” advised White. “You take the idiot question and you love it to death!”


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Advice for Ed: Ed needs to get in touch with his inner red neck

02/10/2012, 11:36:43 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Raymond Geuss – writing, incidentally, in a book with a cover so starkly evocative that it is almost worth buying for the cover alone – is right about one thing:

“Politics is a craft or a skill, and ought precisely not to be analysed, as Plato’s Socrates assumes, as the mastery of a set of principles or theories. This does not imply that political agents do not use theories. Rather, part of their skill depends on being able to choose skilfully which models of reality to use in a certain context, and to take account of the ways in which various theories are limited and ways in which they are useful or fail. The successful exercise of this skill is often called ‘political judgment’.”

He is, however, wrong about another:

“Any society has a tendency to try to mobilise human inertia in order to protect itself as much as possible from radical change, and one main way in which this can be done is through the effort to impose the requirement of ‘positivity’ or ‘constructiveness’ on potential critics: you can’t criticise the police system, the system of labour law, the organisation of health services, etc., unless you have a completely elaborated, positive alternative to propose. I reject this line of argument completely.”

This might suffice for agitators and academics, but not, ultimately, for someone who wishes to succeed in becoming prime minister.

What this series of blogs have offered are interpretations of theory, what Ed Miliband needs to make the most of party conference is political judgment. Nonetheless, theory, and the policy conclusions to which this theory leads, should be mastered by aspirant prime ministers.

It might seem absurd that someone could ascend to the highest office in the UK without deep reflection upon the country that they will lead, the theory that provides their lodestars and the point on the horizon where this country and these lodestars might meet. Oddly enough, though, the current occupant and arguably every prime minister since Thatcher has not really known why they were there, at least not when they first arrived in Downing Street. Even Thatcherism, as I’ve heard Lord Stewart Wood say at seminars, acquired coherence in retrospect that it did not have in 1979.

Miliband has grey matter to rival all these prime ministers. But it would be delusional to conclude that the lacking of animating mission displayed by these prime ministers is a consequence of their stupidity (though, it may partly be a consequence of them spending more time sharpening their elbows than thinking). What this recent history tells us is that it is a tough job devising and implementing a national mission.


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Conference Notebook

30/09/2012, 10:34:33 AM

by Jon Ashworth

I’ve attended Labour conference continually since 1996. I’ve been a steward, a delegate twice, a bag carrier for an MP, a bag carrier for a Cabinet Minister, a back room boy for two leaders and this year and last as an MP.  And I still love it.

Though in my heart I still wish we went to Blackpool, I’m always excited to back here in Manchester the city where I grew up.

Conference effectively starts early on Saturday with the women’s conference, one of the reforms Harriet Harman pushed through her in brief period as acting leader. The event has got bigger and bigger over the last few years and gives Conference a buzz before it has even formally started. So much for the glums who complain there’s no excitement in the run up to Conference this year.


Whether its cutbacks or the realities of opposition I’m surprised to find no ring of steal round the Conference hotel this year. In fact I can walk right through the Midland hotel front door with my little 16 month old daughter Gracie in her push chair with no need to navigate G4’s security searches.

Unbeknownst to me I rock up minutes before Ed is to make the customary Leader arrival. Harriet waiting on the steps to greet Ed instead bounds up to little Gracie in her pushchair, while i look on embarrassed that her face (Gracie’s that is not Harriet’s) is covered with the residue of ‘Goodies’ tomato cheese puffs. I become even more embarrassed when I realise a camera man has spotted the encounter and is filming our deputy leader and little Gracie. I look on with a fixed grin trying to hide my worries about families watching TV in their front room at homes aghast at this bad father who has allowed his little girl to be on telly with such a mucky face. I hope no one in Leicester recognises me…

I’m then tapped on the shoulder by an officious looking press officer, clipboard in hand, telling me the leader is about to arrive and I need to get out of the ‘arrival shot’. Gracie and I quickly toodle off while I scavenge in my pocket for a face wipe.


Saturday evening always begins with the conference delegates’ reception. There is widespread support for Ed as he declares that tackling the horrendous levels of youth joblessness would be his priority on day one. It’s an important commitment for cities like Leicester where we our levels of youth unemployment remain stubbornly high. The commitment is greeted with much support in the room.

Among delegates there is much talk of things being good on the doorstep but everyone is naturally cautious and not wanting to take anything for granted. Council by-election results have been especially encouraging for us lately. Just the other week we won a seat with a spectacular 18% swing in the highly marginal Sherwood constituency. Congratulations to Sherwood Labour but there has of course been other good results elsewhere in battleground constituencies too.


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Advice for Ed: Ed Miliband’s speech to Labour party conference 2012

29/09/2012, 07:00:33 AM

Anthony Painter solves the traditional last minute scramble to finish the leader’s speech by providing a final draft, ready for delivery, four days early

Embargo:1415 02/10/12

Ed Miliband speech to Labour conference, Manchester 2012

*Check against delivery*

It is now half a decade since a financial storm lashed against these shores. A few spots of rain at first then became a torrent and flood. With quick action we limited the devastation but still the damage was still immense. No one was prepared but luckily we are resourceful. And yet, half decade on, we look on at the debris and desolation with a sense of regret: how did we end up here?

It is fine to look back and say what might have been, what should have been. And we all – across the parties – need the humility to admit that more should have been done to spot the weakness in our defences and ensure we were better prepared. Our financial system was not sustainable. Or economy was unbalanced.

Our opponents want to turn this into a party political blame game. I understand that impulse but we all must take responsibility.

And at just the time when trust in our representatives was at a premium, we let the British people down.

They should have been able to expect honesty from those who hold their futures in their hands. And yet, many were on the take. At a time of confusion, we should have been able to turn in trust to those who we expect not to perform miracles but to at least share our basic values. As the expenses scandal took hold that line of trust was broken.

So it is little wonder that people didn’t feel ready to grant any single party a majority in the last election. Trust was broken. The financial storm was vicious. Optimism was lost.

Two years on, and too little has changed. We still are surrounded by the after-effects of the storm. Politicians are held in contempt.  In some ways, it is worse: we now also know that certain elements of the media were failing to meet the standards we have a right to expect. I understand very clearly why people would turn away from politicians. And I understand why they think that none of us really have any answers.

Yet we have to move forward somehow. There’s a nation to rebuild. It’s now clear that the austerity-first approach has failed. I’m going to say something very unusual in politics: I think our opponents genuinely felt that they were pursuing the right course. But they got it wrong. Getting a judgment call wrong might be forgivable if you are honest about it and shift course. This they have failed to do.

So my real criticism is their failure to acknowledge their error and reach for an alternative. It was always a risk to cull youth jobs programmes before the recovery was properly established. The same goes for cuts to housing, infrastructure, new schools and other much need investment. It was a gamble. The coalition lost the bet on our behalf.

Again, the blame game is not enough. We must now move forward from here. My question for the British people is a simple one: faced with this challenge what would an ambitious nation do?

Sure, we can turn on one another, we can despair, we can throw the distrust that our politicians have too easily fostered back at the political system. But there is another way. We can understand that the choices are hard, the sacrifices are many, but we can emerge as stronger, more resilient, more optimistic nation once we have rebuilt after the storm. And that is something we simply have to do together- as a nation not as opposing tribes.

Optimism doesn’t require us to shy away from reality, however. In fact, it means we have to face it. That means accepting some hard truths. The deficit will dominate our politics for the remainder of this decade. There is much that we would like to do – cut taxes for the average family, expand social care, child care and invest more in public services – but this may all have to wait. If we find savings or we decide to ask the wealthy to pay more as they can afford more then it will be the deficit not new programmes that takes priority.


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