Liverpool is lovely. The Labour Party should be planning another conference in Liverpool again, very soon. Everywhere people have been talking more about how welcoming, friendly and revitalising the city has been. It has even provided ample opportunities for delegates and members to escape politics for a little cultural respite.
That’s not to say that the mood amongst the crowd isn’t febrile. We’re only half way through this year’s conference but it is clear that people are chomping the bit to discuss and debate the issues. This afternoon’s speech from Ed Miliband therefore has a high conference threshold to reach.
The pre-briefing points to a leader’s speech of big themes and populist rhetoric, which should play fairly well to the TV masses. But Miliband will no doubt find a more challenging audience in the conference hall.
Just take the debate at this morning’s Young Fabian fringe. Politicians should not discount the appetite for discussing our “squeezed youth” agenda and the challenges facing the next generation, it is obviously huge when an 8am fringe leads to an almost full room.
And, importantly, people are not content with just listening, they want proper dialogue.
I’m not sure what Andy Slaughter or John Woodcock were expecting but they were soon faced with a full on and vibrant debate covering the full gamut of issues our Next Generation policy development group has been looking at.
What is clear is that Labour’s policy development process needs to be geared towards continual engagement with people on these issues, consciously reassessing whether their thinking answers the concerns and hopes of the people we hope policies will affect. As John Woodcock put it, moving beyond “cut and paste policy”.
Maybe that’s not where the leadership is just now but there’s a feeling they need to show they are on that journey. Despite the need for the big picture, which Miliband’s senior advisor Lord Wood made a cogent argument for at our Institute for Government event before conference, we know that the public also wants to be convinced that we can deliver. They also want to see a credible route for the high aspirations we are espousing. On everything – from our response to the Big Society, our ideas about mobilising communities and creating a living, breathing industrial base that can lead us to growth – people want to know how we might get there and what it will mean for them in practice.
That points to more incrementalist policies in some areas and more action from Labour-led local government.
Finally there is a sense that Government cannot do it all; while state-led policy is a necessity, the state needs to find its groove as a mobilising force for business, communities and ordinary people want to lead better lives for themselves and their families.
Vincenzo Rampulla is Officer without Portfolio for the Young Fabians.