Brighton will feel different this weekend: more people in ill-fitting suits drinking too much (and that will just be the journalists). A rival hack once told me, as he checked into a hotel room with his spouse, also a journalist: “I must be the only person who comes to party conference and sleeps with his wife.” If only they were that interesting!
For many people, the political conference season is a three-week yawn. Occasionally, though, they burst into joyous life. And we shouldn’t be too down on them. The bonds forged in debating halls and bars help to shape healthy political movements.
The brutal memoirs of Gordon Brown’s spin doctor Damian McBride are an entertaining sideshow to this year’s Labour conference, which begins tomorrow. But so what if Ed Miliband thought McBride was fatally briefing against Blairite cabinet ministers? Anyone with an IQ above a cactus who had a passing acquaintance with the man guessed as much.
The real matter at stake is this: Miliband and his team must begin to set the terms of political discourse in Britain. If the members of his muted Shadow Cabinet do not pipe up, they do not deserve to fare well at the ballot box in 19 months. Their case is far from hopeless, but a stagnant economy will not deliver them the keys to Downing Street, because many people blame Labour, in part, for a fall in their living standards. (Yet another successful narrative shaped by the Conservatives: we’re mopping up Labour’s mess, welfare was out of control, we’re trying to mend the roof.)
Today’s announcements – “granny leave” to help with care for newborn grandchildren (imaginative, if likely to be limited in uptake) and the planned abolition of the ‘bedroom tax’ (obvious, popular) are a start. But it’s time for HM Opposition to start stating its case.