15 January 2011

Political conferences in mid-January? Believe.

I went along to the Fabian Society's New Year conference for the first time today. In previous years I've never felt enthusiastic enough about anything to do with the Labour Party to bother to go, but Labour being in opposition makes the whole thing a bit more exciting (at least in theory) and certainly a lot of people seem to feel the same way, as tickets were completely sold out and the Logan Hall at the Institute of Education was packed for Ed Miliband's keynote address.

I thought it was pretty good without being spectacular, which I think is more or less what I said about Ed's speech at the Fabian post-election conference back in May, when he first announced he was running for Labour leader. I still can't quite believe he won, even though on this blog I was actually predicting it as far back as the day of that May 2010 Fabian speech. In fact in one post from just before Ed announced his candidacy I suggested placing a bet on him at 11/1 for the Labour leadership. If only...

The old shirt-sleeves strolling about delivery beloved of DaveCam, which Ed is an old lag at, seems to have disappeared - at least for now - as it was a fairly conventional lectern-and-tie speech, complete with Tony Blair/David Miliband dropped "t"s and Gordon Brown "I wanna be a goalkeeper" hand movements. The delivery was a LOT better than Brown though, and there was also a sense of setting out a vision; several people I spoke to were impressed with that, not all of them natural Ed Miliband fanclub material by any means. So Ed is not a "son of Brown" but is mapping out a distinctive identity, set apart from New Labour. At least a bit (let's not exaggerate too much here...)

The speech was pretty light on specifics - I'd have liked to see some commitment to support the big anti-cuts protests planned for later in the year, for example, and commitments to reverse the worst of the Tory-led govt's cuts (e.g. benefits for disabled people). But it held out promise for the future, and. combined with the massive victory in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election, it looks like Ed's leadership is safe and secure at least until the next general election. Iain Duncan Smith he isn't.

The best breakout session I went to was about how the Left can learn from the Right's campaigning tactics. From the right we had Matthew Elliot of the Taxpayers' Alliance (sorry, I can't bring myself to link to them) and Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome, both of whom were actually quite interesting in terms of explaining where they thought the Right had done a good job of campaigning the last few years and where they were still relatively weak. The left was represented by MPs Jon Cruddas (thoughtful and philosophically deep as always) and Chuka Umanna (articulate and suave as hell - will probably be leader 10 years from now, if not before, and maybe the UK's first non-white prime minister). And also by Laurie Penny of New Statesman whose stuff I often enjoy reading, and made a powerful contribution.

Anyway that's quite enough politics for today... I'll get back to watching BBC4, currently showing Bruce Springsteen Live in Houston, 1978. Ya gotta love The Boss.

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