December 9 2013 Latest news:
Annabelle Dickson, Political Editor
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Labour activists left Brighton last night after the party’s days in the spotlight.
Political Editor Annabelle Dickson asks if their leader and his shadow cabinet are now doing enough to win over voters on the doorsteps of Norfolk and Suffolk.
Within the confines of the Labour Party conference area there was a noticeable shift in the mood after Ed Miliband’s speech.
There had been plenty of fighting talk in the lead up to the set-piece Tuesday event, but in the aftermath of what was a self-confident and assured performance, there was a real sense that the party is back on track and the summer of discontent was behind it.
The drab and soulless lobby of the Brighton Centre venue was livened up by an excited huddle around a statue of a giant ice cube containing a mock energy bill – quickly set up in the wake of the key announcement to freeze energy bills up to 2017.
Prospective candidates queued to have their photo taken and an image of x,y or z candidate will no doubt appear on campaign leaflets going through doors across the country over the coming months.
The energy bill announcement – which was the grand finale of a slate of policy pledges – will be central to the party’s arguments on cost of living.
Early yesterday shadow energy minister Caroline Flint summoned candidates to a meeting to explain the policy in more detail.
Over the next 20 months it will be part of a candidate’s arsenal on the doorstep.
A few candidates were willing to admit post conference that they had been nervous about the shortage of answers to questions over the summer, but the pledge to scrap the bedroom tax and the energy bills freeze particularly have given them a feeling they have something to go back and talk about.
Mr Miliband was expecting the angry response from the energy industry about his plans. But it plays into how he wants to position himself against so-called vested interests.
He wants to differentiate himself from David Cameron who the party likes to portray as the millionaire’s friend.
It is a dangerous strategy though. Over the coming months when energy companies put up bills the Tories will be able to go on the attack saying Labour’s price freeze pledge are forcing up prices.
And the plans for reduced business rates for small businesses, paid for (Mr Miliband implies) by higher taxes on bigger businesses who have “short-changed” us will also be portrayed by the opposition as state intervention to fix prices and whacking big companies.
But among members of the party it has gone down well.
Prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich South Clive Lewis described the conference as “the most decisive break with the politics of New Labour” – something he said he was immensely happy about.
Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor Damien McBride did make an appearance to flog his explosive biography, but there were many young faces and students trawling the corridors of the hotels and conference venue and a feeling that the Blair years were over.
So has it been a successful conference?
Some criticisms have been answered. And there is a sense that Miliband performed well for his big moment. It was after months of preparation,
While there is much more to do on the policy front, his slogan One Nation has been fleshed out a bit.
It was a shrewd move by his second in command Ed Balls to ask for the Office for Budget Responsibility to audit the plans, knowing that it would require a change in the law.
He can claim the Tories are blocking the independent assessment if they fail to make a change. And, if the OBR approves his plans then that would give him more credibility.
Of course, much of this discussion and “messaging” has been going on within the confines of Brighton.
Going back to the doorstep may bring a buoyed Labour activist army back down to earth.
Whether the electorate likes what they hear from Labour, only time will tell.