Is Labour in labour yet?
If you’ll pardon the title of the blog I mean is Ed Miliband about to give birth? Has he got the big new idea that will defy history and make him electable within five years? Is it about to spring forth and cry with full voice in the way a newborn baby pulls at your heart? I’ve just chaired my first fringe meeting of the conference for the think tank Demos – with Ed Miliband “team insider” Chuka Umunna. When challenged by me and the audience on where Labour’s defining idea was, how it was going to be heard beyond the conference hall we emerged not much wiser. Labour is the party of the NHS, the minimum wage and equality legislation, he explained, and Ed Miliband’s speech on Tuesday will lay out the kind of hope that defines the party. Did that mean there was something comparable to the creation of the NHS? All that got was a laugh.
The opinion polls are simply telling what most of the delegates here know in their hearts – that Labour is still struggling to be heard. Ed Miliband may be playing a long game – fixed term parliaments mean he still almost certainly has nearly four years to go, and doesn’t really need to be ready for a snap election in two years time as he would otherwise. It may not matter especially that the polls show people don’t really know him, or particularly like him. He still has time. But the media commentary around him, and the mutterings in the party, will say the next twelve months are crucial. Long time Labour pollster Deborah Mattinson explains that while David Cameron was doing worse than Ed Miliband after his first year he turned it around sharply after that.
Labour still doesn’t seem sure what it got wrong and right in the last couple of years of office. Everyone is still talking the language of learning the lessons, of understanding what the voters rejected. But on the economy the history of the two Eds still means they are unsure what to admit, what to defend. Chuka Umunna just told me he thought Labour got the economic policy right but the politics wrong – that they should have sounded like they cared about the deficit more than they did. And there is now a renewed sense that they were right all along because of the state of the global economy. The worse things get the more some believe they can argue that George Osborne got it wrong.
It is day one – presumably there will be more flesh on the bones by the time of Ed Balls’ speech on Monday and Ed Miliband on Tuesday.