Ed Miliband returns to Manchester, the Labour Party Conference and the scene of his much publicised victory over his brother two years ago. As a conference party virgin, I decided to enter the fray as open-mindedly as possible and, having spotted a number of (free) fringe events taking place throughout the day, it was upon the ‘other’ Miliband that I was to focus on.
But without a conference pass, what does someone who is entirely new to such events do to occupy themselves, I hear you ask. I opted to spend a large portion of my morning celebrity spotting outside the heavily guarded main entrance to the conference hall: Shami Chakrabati and Peter Hain were in buoyant mood. Having had my fill, I decided to head over to hear the less coveted Milliband express his views on youth unemployment at the Hilton hotel, a short walk from where the main conference was taking place.
As David Miliband strolls into the sparsely populated room with Krishnan Guru Murthy hot on his heels, a sudden hush descends upon the proceedings. We are, after all, in the presence of one of British politics’ most well-known and influential men, albeit a man whose now rather stagnant role must be very different from the one he had envisaged this time two years ago. Indeed, at one point he somewhat unconvincingly tells us through gritted teeth that his own position of employment lies ‘on the front line, not the front bench’. The fact that there are no more than 100 people attending this hour-long interview is a sure sign that times have changed.
Sporting a casual unbuttoned-shirt look and trousers which appear to sit uncomfortably high on his waist, he engages the audience confidently with a well-oiled spiel about the crisis of youth unemployment. It is hard to ignore the skill and ease with which he succeeds in picking out the questions that please him whilst moving swiftly on from those that don’t. More often than not, a ‘that’s a very powerful point’ suffices to appease the audience and divert their attention from the issue at hand. It would be difficult to describe the listeners as a ‘tough crowd’. In fact, comfortably surrounded by his labour peers and a Krishnan Guru Murthy in generous mood, he never once lost his grip on the listeners.
Miliband’s main solution to the crisis of youth unemployment seems to be a more regionalised approach, thus favouring a detachment from the more centralised national tactics currently employed. A cause which I would give my full backing to. He spoke about the necessity of giving an equal weighting to apprenticeships and university courses, so that those who choose the former don’t feel like they’ve failed by not going into higher education. A number of good points are made but his real failure seems to lie in the inability to propose workable solutions that fail to distance themselves from mere theory. I left the room feeling less impressed with Miliband’s qualities as an orator than I had hoped and perhaps more significantly, believing that Labour had made the right decision in appointing his brother as party leader.
The rest of the day was spent collecting various leaflets from campaigners stationed around the conference centre, discussing that morning’s Ed Balls speech and soaking up the rather optimistic atmosphere. Attending a party conference is certainly an experience that I would recommend to all and one that I shall be repeating in the future. These are exciting times for Labour and I was glad to have been part of such a key moment in the run up to the upcoming elections in 2015.