Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Centre Left's conference week highlights

It's been an eventful week at my first conference in eight years, if extremely mixed politically (I know it's not over yet, but do you really think it's worth staying till Thursday? I'm home already). On Sunday the Refounding Labour party reform package was passed, including some difficult-to-justify gender quotas for the Shadow Cabinet, Leader and Deputy Leader. The Sunday night Progress fringe, which I attended and wrote up for them here, was an excellent show featuring the best of the Labour Party's sensible squad, as well as a barnstorming speech by Ivan Lewis, surely a good tip for higher things.

On Monday, Ed Balls' speech gave cause for modest cheering, when he agreed to long-term fiscal targets to aid our financial credibility. But it was only the first baby step along a long road. But the Leader's speech was both disappointing and worrying: I have a blow-by-blow analysis piece here. There are some other very good articles about it and its aftermath by two fellow bloggers I finally met in the flesh (instead of on Twitter), Anthony Painter and Atul Hatwal, not to mention the usual forensic analysis by John Rentoul. But the upshot is that the speech has not taken us anywhere and, indeed, it seems that Miliband spent much of Wednesday morning justifying it in the TV studios. Worse still, it had ecstatic crits from the current bunch of union leaders, not to mention mad Seumas Milne from the Guardian. Not a good sign.

That same morning Andrew Neil also asked Andy Burnham whether the passage in Ed's speech about responsibility meant we were now going to differentiate between the "deserving poor and the undeserving poor". Which, of course, was exactly what it meant. Poor Andy was cornered. But it wasn't his fault, he was just defending the indefensible, like a good lieutenant. The problem, I'm afraid, was caused by the general.

Difficult, difficult times for Labour.

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