This is the first “proper” conference since the Labour Party’s General Election defeat of 2010, given the 2010 conference was dedicated to the results of the Labour Leadership election, and the subsequent shock win of Ed Miliband.
Aside from the almost certain grumbles about the conference venue – no grand old conference hotel in the secure zone for politicians and the media to hobnob – this year’s conference is likely to be almost entirely dominated by conversations on the internal structures of the Labour Party itself.
The Refounding Labour process, spearheaded by Peter Hain, has proposed various measures with the aim of reconnecting the Labour Party with the public, and making it more focused on community activism.
Firstly, the relatively needless process of having Conference rubber-stamp the change from an elected Shadow Cabinet to one which is solely nominated by the Leader, Ed Miliband. In truth this change should be a matter for the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) given it is simply a change in the standing orders. However, since it was the Refounding Labour process that proposed it, it will go onto the conference floor for discussion. As a result of this expect to hear lots of chatter about which of the current incumbents wags think will be for the chop – and of course the much-mooted (hoped-for?) return of the ‘Prince Over The Water’ figure, David Miliband.
Secondly, the far more interesting proposal to add a new section to the Affiliates section of the electoral voting college of the Labour Party. So alongside the Trades Unions and the Socialist Societies such as the Fabian Society and others, registered supporters of the Labour Party will be invited to vote for leaders in the future. One can only assume that Ed Miliband won’t be expecting this to be used for a long time yet…
Further changes in this respect include restricting members and others to a maximum of one vote in a maximum of two sections of the electoral college. One for psephological wonks really. The Trades Unions reaction to this has been relatively muted – they are presumably relieved that this is a relatively minor adjustment to their power in the party structures.
On the policy front, Shadow Ministers will set out in their keynotes a broad-brush approach to their policy portfolios, giving little specific detail but setting out a direction of travel. After the plethora of policy reviews (some say in the high 20s, others have counted over 70), members will want to see that some hard thinking has been done on issues such as health and social security – and of course on economic growth.
Names to watch on the fringe? My money is on strong performances from John Woodcock MP, Stella Creasy MP and Kate Green MP. Encounters to look out for? Well, I wouldn’t like to be stuck in the lift should Ed Balls and Alistair Darling meet unexpectedly!
Steve Race is Equalities Officer for the Young Fabians.