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Labour’s conference: The Henry G Manson verdict

September 29th, 2011

His prediction: “what needs to be done will be done”.

This was a bad Labour Party conference. It was confusing, contradictory, let the government off the hook and needlessly created an array of hostages to fortune. It all the feel of an emergency party conference arranged with a fortnight’s notice – not a platform planned carefully to showcase an alternative government and Prime Minister. 

This week wasn’t just a car crash. It was a 30 car pile-up. I could write 10,000 on words on what went wrong. For now here’s my summary from a Labour perspective. We now have:

  • A leader who certainly does not look like a Prime Minister. If a first impression wasn’t already formed by the voters then it has this week. If the speech was composed and delivered with the intention of demonstrating his weaknesses over his strengths then it succeeded. He’s a nice guy but he’s out of his depth and not up to the demands of Prime Minister. The public know it and now we do too.
  • A party that is now passing verdict on everything and everyone. Journalists should under license, businesses are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and TV programmes such as Big Brother are irresponsible. Labour had previously been shedding its olds authoritarian impulses. They’re back in spectacular fashion with a childlike twist. The most depressed person right now must the be the party’s head of fundraising anticipating having to run a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ business test on any future corporate donors – should any come forward. This judgementalism will only make more opponents than allies.
  • A pledge to ‘spend every pound wisely’ if elected. Possibly the most naïve hostage to fortune since I can’t remember when. Nobody goes into government with the intention of wasting money however but this is a preposterous guarantee. But within any organisation of any scale there is always some waste or some risks that don’t come off. Should Ed Miliband’s Labour somehow stumble into power then we’ve have given a field-day for the press and Taxpayer’s Alliance to identify waste on any scale and hold up Ed’s remarks against it.
  • Policy chaos. Our position on university fees that they should be double what Labour pledged at the election a year ago – yet this stance is not even a policy commitment for the next general election. So we are in an imaginary world in which we outline what we would do if in power today which only makes sense in response to what the Tories have also done having also won too. This is not even plausible science fiction.
  • Strategic knots. We repeatedly oppose ‘ideological cuts’ and highlight how they undermine society and slow down the economy. Yet Labour won’t yet pledge to reverse any of them. Every time Labour speaks out on a cut they will be asked, quite reasonably ‘would you reverse it?’ Our stance makes us appear impotent and insincere.
  • The chances are of Ed Miliband being Labour leader at the next election are not at all good. Frankly no-one is going to die in a ditch for him.

    The key question is who is likely to replace him? What’s clear to me after this conference is that it certainly won’t be David Miliband. The only possible candidate who could unify MPs, party members and trade union members and take the fight to the Government is Yvette Cooper. The fixed term legislation buys the Labour Party time to sort this mess out. And what a mess it is.

    But for all the disbelief at Ed Miliband’s performance this last year and this week, conference closes without despair, but in fact calm.

    All the recent doubts and uncertainties have in fact been settled. At the appropriate time in the next 12 months what needs to be done will be done.

    HenryG Manson @henrygmanson