Luckily I feel I have been let off the hook due to Spikes regular, informative and passionate updates from #lab12. Rather than imitate what he has already said I thought I would take you through some of the general themes and events I came across that I found particularly interesting since day 1:
- Ed Balls gave an incredible speech on Monday which conjured up the spirit of 1945 and reinforced the position of our economic policy: that every time in our history when faced with a crisis of this magnitude we have needed a long term plan for growth with Keynesian stimulus, that can fill the gap in demand and solve the 'paradox of thrift'. It is fair to say that Ed Balls is not prepared to announce a 'New Deal' or an Atlee- esque NHS moment, but he is reinforcing the message that the coalition is withdrawing funds from the economy too fast and has strangled confidence. He mentioned how we should use the recent 4G windfall to start building houses again and how he would introduce a zero based budget review after the election to re assess the necessity of every pound spent across the government. Logical stuff and a very impressed auditorium laughed it up when he declared we had 'Butch Cassidy and the Flat line Kid' in government and how the prime minister is so weak he is unprepared to sack Mitchell and has even given Hunt a promotion. Larry Elliot from the guardian has his analysis here.
- The Social Market Foundation held a really informative fringe about how a next Labour government should build a sustainable framework for higher education funding. Opinions ranged from those who thought that more market could be an option and help social mobility (not a fan) to one member of the panel (memorising names not a strength) who thought that the current system was fine but fee's should be reduced to a cap of 6,000 a year (which by my understanding is unofficially where Ed has positioned himself). There was of course large support for the opinion that the market has not worked and the experiment should end as more and more students are now turning down university or choosing degrees based on price rather than the best one for their future.
- Equalities Citizenship and Constitutional Reform: Extremely interesting policy seminar which opened the floor to delegates, many of which had stories to tell about real life implications for those who are disabled, from an ethnic minority, have faced gender discrimination etc. Naturally the seminar had no conclusions but produced many different idea's about what the party can do with regards to political correctness, positive discrimination, equal marriages, improved benefits for the disabled etc once the stagnation of the Conservative government is over.
- A fringe meeting with the Big Innovation Centre Chaired by observer columnist Will Hutton was entertaining. It is a relatively new movement that aims to put innovation and an industrial strategy at the heart of the next labour project in order to enable us to be world leaders in internet business and green sectors among others. I won't waffle too much but i would strongly advise visiting their website as it is all about creating a strategy beyond cutting the deficit and coupling business and innovation with the long term needs of the nation.
- One major highlight that I was not expecting at all and probably my favourite fringe meeting of the conference was one held in a pub (not the reason why) about progress in the north and exploring whether regional or northern devolution was the answer to their lack of representation in central government and other issues. It's a pretty radical reform which was one reason it was exciting, but also rather than being a fringe meeting with think tanks or political celebrities it was full of northerners who were so genuinely passionate about the subject it was truly inspirational to be there. It was real, interesting, something I agree with and also a group of people and an area of the country who have complete reason to feel let down by policy makers of all colours over thirty or more years, but rather than being disillusioned or fed up they decide to fight, debate and campaign about their issues through politics and through the labour party.Great stuff! The Hannah Mitchell Foundation.
- Ed Miliband: future Prime Minister? It's possible and few thought it would be at this point which is why the party is in such jubilant mood. I won't babble on this as you've all seen the speech and read about it plenty by now. You've all 'seen it, heard it, felt it' and how incredible it was. One thing you may not have seen however was the Q & A he did the day after. This was interesting because many have pointed at the two as the moment he found his voice etc. He was incredibly witty, comfortable and demonstrated his sharp intellect but I don't think this was the 'moment he found his voice'. This has been happening for a while in my opinion: standing on the right side of most major national issues (phone hacking), good performances in PMQ's, and many different meetings and interviews the party faithful have seen but others haven't. My point is he has been finding his feet and growing into the role for a while but this was the moment it really sent shock waves around the media and hit home with the public. This moment was inevitable in my eyes and is the first step of many where he starts to become a bigger and bigger public figure before the election.
Just a thought about the man I think will be prime minister. I doubt tomorrow's 'incompetent, out of touch, u-turning, pledge breaking, make it up as you go along, write it on the back of an envolope, miserable shower of a prime minister' will provide an equal showing.