Labour Party Conference – A steady conference with a big finish

Until Ed Milband’s speech, this week’s Labour Conference in Manchester didn’t offer much to get a politico’s heart beating. All the signs were there for a solid, uncontroversial conference – until Tuesday afternoon the dominating theme was the need to develop a strong narrative in the absence of policy detail this far out from an election.

If an alien had landed in central Manchester this week, they could have been forgiven for thinking that everyone there desperately wanted to be somewhere else. The exhibition hall was strangely quiet; the bars were full of lobbyists comparing notes on the hours left before they could leave. Rather than swapping conference gossip or debating ideas at the fringe, most of the delegates seemed glued to their phones, idly passing the time and waiting for something, anything interesting to happen.

Ed Miliband’s speech – his third as leader – gave the conference a shot in the arm it so desperately needed. It was by all account a deeply personal speech highlighting his comprehensive education and his immigrant background. He spoke passionately about his political faith and set out his version of Disraeli’s ‘One Nation’. Some of the speech was carefully crafted to appease those in the hall – the sections on inequality, the NHS and education – but the vast majority of the speech was aimed at the country at large, setting out his stall for a land grab on the centre ground of British Politics. Behind the scenes, some more interesting nuggets emerged. Jon Cruddas, charged with shaping Labour’s policies ahead of the election, suggested that a new version of the big society would form a central part of the next Labour manifesto. Ahead of a Shadow Cabinet away day which will set down the themes of the manifesto, this is an important reminder to the charity sector to up their game in terms of influencing all of the main political parties ahead of the 2015 election. And given Miliband’s performance this week, perhaps it will be more interesting than first thought!

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Chloe Stables, External Relations Manager, reflects on the latest political developments affecting the voluntary and community sector.

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