Monday, 23 September 2013

The Centre Left goes to…Brighton!

An occasional Centre Left series which tends to happen whenever I get the chance to go anywhere. I don’t get out much, y’see.

It’s been a while, Brighton. As my grandparents' home for the first twenty years or so of my life, it’s a bit like coming back to see an old friend, who you don’t see very often but it’s always a pleasure.

If I remember well, my last conference here was 2000, my clearest memory being of myself and various other reprobate comrades at about 3am singing "Roll Out The Barrel" (or similar) in an upstairs lobby of one of the larger hotels, which happened to have a grand piano.

These days I’ll have to make do with the traditional conference karaoke with some old friends (yes, @martinangus, we all know that LAWS is the best karaoke in town and will be on at the New Madeira Hotel on Monday night).

For those who don’t frequent the town much, since my childhood it has developed a markedly hippy, liberal vibe which it's hard not to warm to, as well as transforming itself into surely the unchallenged gay and lesbian capital of the UK. It’s also home to some very sensible and decent Labour people I have met over the years.

Since my last conference here, a fairly solid Labour council here has fallen to the Greens. Despite my politics being of a modestly greenish hue, one wonders about their ability to manage their way out of a paper bag, let alone a multi-milllion pound council budget. I guess we will see how they’ve done at the urns in 3 years’ time. My guess is they won’t stay, and they were there for the same reason as George Galloway in Bradford, because of a general disillusionment with politics. But I could be wrong.

And so to the political content of this conference. Most conferences are labelled “make or break” for some spurious reason or another, and this one is no exception. Although Labour really needs to start breaking its silence on major policy areas, whatever Miliband says about policy will still probably not be listened to by the public – yet.

But it genuinely is make-or-break in one particular area: Miliband’s proposals on party reform need to be accepted, in principle if not outright (that will be at a special conference next Spring).

If they are not, two things will happen: firstly, he will probably not lose the leadership but his own credibility will be shot, and his chances of reaching Number Ten will be seriously diminished, if not destroyed.

Worse, the party will have lost the chance for serious reform for a generation, and what someone once called “the forces of conservatism” will have won a very important victory. 

As the Centre Left has blogged on many occasions, you cannot underestimate the importance of party. Miliband did with the failure of the “damp squib” Refounding Labour programme, and it came back to bite him. We cannot afford to fail this time.

As it so happens, you may have seen from a series of news and comment pieces in the Independent over recent weeks that myself and my good colleagues from Labour Uncut will be launching tonight our first-ever book, entitled Labour manifesto uncut – How to Win in 2015, containing some rather good ideas on how to do just that.

However, it’s about more than just manifesto policy - my own little chapter is different: it’s about party reform and how it could actually be the key to a revival in Miliband’s poll ratings.

The point is that there are still other things still not covered by the Collins Review on party reform – a document I read on the journey and seems pleasingly robust – which Labour still needs to do, like sort out its damaging addiction to identity politics in our ethnic communities.

In other words, we only have one chance in this generation before the window closes again – let’s really sort things out. There are plenty of other things apart from Falkirk-style stitch-ups which the party needs to fix.

And for the'll just have to read the book.

Labour manifesto uncut – How to Win in 2015 will be launched tonight, Monday 23 September at the Pragmatic Radicalism fringe, details here.

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