Friday, September 29, 2006


The Manchester Conference: what a relief for Labour!

On 5th September last, Labour Party managers would have given anything for the conference they have just had. On that day, recall, an attempt to topple the prime minister had been made, apparently with tacit support from his oldest rival and the party stood poised on the brink of an abyss which could have plunged them into a decade of opposition. Following that Blair promised to go within a year, though without being too precise, and Brown appeared discreetly to move his tanks off Tony's lawn and back behind the flower beds. Even so the atmosphere was febrile and many expected some kind of blood to be smearing the G-Mex floor by the end of this week. That there was no blood is a sign that Labour has grown up just a little since the early eighties and, perhaps, that purely personality disputes are less harmful than those spiked with antithetical ideologies. Personally, I didn't think the party had shown the 'death wish' discerned by Polly Toynbee this morning.

Instead we had a number of quite good things upon which to reflect. Firstly, Gordon Brown's speech was not cut from the same dull David Davis cloth of last year which some had predicted. He failed to raise many heartbeats but he implicitly made his case to the party and wider movement that his competence and achievements had earned him the premiership. He also made an effort to convince us that he has learned a little magnamimity as well as the need to look outside his own circle for the talent to staff any new administration he might one day lead.

Secondly Blair, the old master, turned it on again and did manage to make the blood run more quickly. With this bravura performance he emphasised to delegates just how vital he has been to their party since he became leader in 1994. Large sections still want him to go but he has reminded them how big a hole he will leave once he has stepped down. I suspect he will have stilled much of the noisy discontent which characterized the late summer and might even be able to strtech his tenure by a few more months than commonly predicted.

Thirdly the supporting acts were good too: Bill Clinton weighed in with his guest speech to underline just how major a figure Blair has been; John Prescott won a fond farewell after apologizing for his Clintonian misdeeds but I just hope his apology to his wife was a bit more fulsome and and explicit than his cursory 'sorry' to the conference; and then we had John Reid, making his bid for leading the possible candidates to Gordon. On Reid's candidature I have written before and tend now to agree with Toynbee that the Newsnight focus group led by Frank Luntz should not be taken too seriously. Reid was shown favourably, making a strong verbal showing while the others' clips showed them being mostly mediocre.

But while Johnson has faded and Miliband is no longer even talked about, Reid is the one candidate who could come though to deny Gordon the premiership. Much depends on what happens between now and May but if terrorism becomes even more of a threat by then Reid's brand of tough-guy in your face Mohammed attitude might just come to challenge a man whose CV still makes him odds-on to lift the crown.

I was at the Conference on Wednesday when Blair did a 5 minute warm-up for Clinton. You really felt that there was still a great deal of genuine warmth from the delegates towards Blair. It might have been relief that he's going, but there were some very vocal gropus calling for 'four more years'. By the way, there was a terrific atmosphere there - it was more akin to a rock concert than a political rally. It certainly made a huge impression on the dozen or so A Level students I had taken along. As they say, 'Awesome'.
Where was the discussion throughout the week on:

Labour £27 million in the red

Loans for peerages scandal

Iraq war

The Prescott scandals

and others

no - it won't wash

Labour are 'in denial'

and the public will not forget all the scandals, the corruption, and the croneyism

at the risk of becoming a political pundit, I would aver that they will get wiped out at the next elections
Roy You may be right of course but:

1.The Conservatives, during the nineties, I'd argue were far more reprehensible than Labour.

2. Labour are not doing disastrously in polls. In 1992, a few months before polling day the Tories were 25 points behind and still managed to win.

3. Labour are indeed in 'denial' but to no greater extent than most parties are to their shortcomings at any one time.

4. Apart from Iraq, a huge 'apart from' I agree, Labour has been a successful government. I agree perceptions have been sullied by the scandals etc but on past performances, Labour should avoid a wipe-out at the next election. Current polls put them level pegging with Conservatives.
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