Ed shows a spark, but will it lead to fire?
By Dan Conway
The 2012 Labour Party Conference was all about Ed Miliband's credibility as a potential Prime Minister. It is not a secret that David Cameron has consistently out-polled his party in terms of competency and likeability, while his counterpart has not been so fortunate. Labour Party members arrived with a healthy lead in the polls and the general feeling that Government in 2015 is a real possibility. Having said this, this general optimism consistently carried one caveat: can Ed Miliband convince the rest of the country.
In relation to the Labour Party conferences of the recent past, there was the welcome omission of tribalism and infighting. No longer are you a Tony or a Gordon, a David or an Ed. There are the obvious rumours surrounding vague leadership bids, but for the most part Ed is secure. The age-old spectres of the likes of Yvette Cooper have been replaced by a discussion around the new generation, and with it a discussion around post 2015.
Ed's key-note speech has been hailed as seminal by some of the more sympathetic sections of the press, and indeed some of the historically less sympathetic. Even Tim Shipman in the Daily Mail commended its significance: "in short it was the best conference speech by a Labour leader since Tony Blair's barnstorming valedictory in 2006 and the most politically significant since Blair's backs-against-the-wall effort in the midst of the Iraq quagmire and Brown's serial disloyalty in 2004". The conference observed a relaxed man, a man in control, a man for whom the next few years appear (for now at least) a lot less daunting than those just gone. Overall, Ed's team must be delighted with his performance, even if the ComRes poll (released on Tuesday morning by the Independent) indicated that only 22% of the public believe that he is a credible Prime Minister. On this kind of form his ratings can only be expected to rise.
"One Nation Labour" has understandably received a mixed review, but by contrast a much better one than the "predator/producer" conceit of last year. It has been tipped as a move back to the centre-ground of British politics and as having a vaguely New Labour feel to it. Of course there are parts of the party membership who see this as a positive, but it remains true that Ed must present himself as clearly distinct from his immediate predecessors almost as much as he is from the Coalition. The true repercussions of One Nation Labour will not truly be known until conference season dies down and the level of buy-in from the public is clear. It will, however, be very interesting to see how David Cameron responds in his speech next week. The inevitable flurry of media headlines and political attention around the Conservative Party Conference will consign One Nation Labour to Westminster Village memory, but for now Ed Miliband has the hottest topic in town. Even Phillip Blond thinks so.
Having said all of the above, the conference delegates must go home with a slight sense of dissatisfaction. The major questions remain unanswered, the biggest of which remains the economy. Labour are still not trusted on the economy and cannot stake a genuine claim to the Westminster throne without bucking this trend. Similarly, the suggestions for public service reform and management of the NHS remain incomplete. Of course, Labour do not want to articulate (and commit) to too much too soon with the election still so very far away, but both party members and industry delegates demand leadership and policy progression.
For now at least a framework of principles and values will suffice, but as 2015 approaches Ed?s task will be to convert this to substance.