Out of power and short of policies, the Labour Party’s Conference 2012 proved to be a decidedly horizontal affair. Though party morale is slowly rebuilding after its ejection from power, the long wait until the next contest has made the opposition sag in the middle.
With two years and a ten point lead, Ed Miliband certainly has much to prove, yet questions remain about his own personal approval ratings and what Labour would actually do differently if they got into government. Watching BBC Parliament judgmentally from my very own red seat, a very reasonably priced one from Ikea, my guess is not a lot.
While none of the major parties won the 2010 election, Labour was undoubtedly the biggest loser and if one considers the myriad of internal problems the party faced from the start, any such result is unsurprising. Seated disenchantment with the party, as well as politics as a whole, had done little to endear the incumbent to the public. Thought self-purported as the working-class party, the expenses scandal which incriminated many senior Labour politicos tarnished the party’s reputation irreparably.
With an apposite distinction between the leading parties apparently indistinguishable, voter alienation turned to apathy amongst the electorate, as a lack of faith translated to a lack of votes, with most voters feeling unrepresented by any of the parties on offer.
Indeed, with Labour’s snout equally as deep as the Tories’ in the expenses trough, the party’s image spiralled further into the gutter and Gordon Brown’s own lack of charisma did little to help the party’s chance of re-election.
Punished for their poor performance in 2010, Labour faced an overwhelming need to reinvent. But following this year’s proceedings in Manchester, it is clear that Labour has certainly not learnt. With another ambiguous manifesto, one thing becomes painstakingly clear – the on-going policy review that is at the heart of Labour’s limbo. The lack of cohesion, rumoured division between Ed Miliband and his namesake, Ed Balls, is damaging the party’s standing with voters.
Only the vaguest principles could be agreed upon and there was no indomitable programme of government. And while no expense has been spared in highlighting the failings of the coalition, Labour have offered few, if any, counter proposals themselves. Miliband is not a man with a plan and his party is not united behind one.
Being heir to Tony and Gordon was never going to be an easy task and Ed has to play a careful game as leader of Labour’s broad church. The unions need dealing with and awkward questions on whether to support public sector strikes and even whether to address the spending cuts protest coming up later this month must be handled appropriately.
Yet after five days of the conference, we did not see as much evidence of political strategy, as we did of time killing and extravagant padding out. Dame Tessa Jowell’s session on Team GB’s triumph was both milked and unnecessary, and while the parading of Nicola Adams was heart-warming, I doubt it will sway many undecided voters on Labour’s economic or foreign policies.
And I don’t imagine Ed’s speech would either. Indeed, a self-indulgent and irrelevant family history was sandwiched between unoriginal views and ambiguities.
As at home on stage as Bambi on ice, Miliband failed to back welfare or immigration caps and still stands for more spending, more borrowing and more debt – exactly what got us into this mess in the first place.
Borrowing a political slogan from some two hundred years previously, it is obvious that Miliband’s “one nation party” are bereft of original ideas; even the “new” Technical Baccalaureate just seemed a rehash of the old BTEC.