Our insight into the mood on the ground at Labour Party Conference
In the run-up to conference most of the chatter was focused on MPs staying away from conference. In the most part that is probably true, although there is a strong contingent of anti-Corbyn members of the PLP who have chosen to take a very visible stance up in Liverpool. Chuka Umunna, Emma Reynolds, Chris Bryant, Neil Coyle, to name a few, have all been visible presences in the bars and cafes around the conference centre.
Overall, the conference has felt flat and empty. Fixed term parliaments have, to some extent, negated the need for big investments in the conferences of the opposition in the immediate aftermath of an election but this seems slightly different (not to mention the fact that there is still chatter about a snap election). This is altogether a more pointed absence. The fringe guide and exhibition centre are notably bereft of major businesses, and the main conference bar lacks the usual hum of businesses, charities and parliamentarians sharing ideas.
I would suggest it has two main root causes. Firstly, there is a feeling that no matter who you are in the private sector, the leadership is likely to be sceptical of you and won’t value your form of commerce. John McDonnell’s announcement of a £10 minimum wage has been met with disapproval across the piece, not because businesses do not want to pay it, but because it has been arrived at in a seemingly arbitrary way and with no consultation.
The second is the complete absence of any fresh new thinking or ideas emanating from the Labour Party at the moment. Many of the real policy heavy weights have left the party to pursue alternative options and with no obvious engagement between the leadership and think tanks it’s difficult to see how their ideas can be seen as embryonic manifesto pledges. There is no think tank ‘du jour’ playing the role that the IPPR did for Blair or Policy Exchange did for Cameron.
The positive news from conference is a strong story about where Labour is making an actual difference to people’s lives by holding power and changing things. There is a real sense that the immediate future for those who want to see a workable social democratic solution to public services lies at a local or city level. For the years that follow, this is where Labour can make its mark.