Liam Byrne might have thought he was being funny leaving a card on his desk saying there was no money left as he left office as Labour’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Actually Liam, it was arrogant, poor politics and sums up why people might not vote Labour back to power in 2015.
However the polls are looking good for Ed Miliband as he arrives in Manchester and people are starting to take Labour seriously again. So this week’s conference needs to give us some idea where the party stands on the major issues of public finances and growth.
Rachel Reeves now shadows Liam Byrne’s old job and made an impressive appearance at a Downtown event in Liverpool a year ago. What we need from her and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is not a detailed budget but some financial principles.
All political parties are already looking to the post 2015 years. George Osborne wants £10bn more cuts. Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats made it clear at their conference they won’t be bound beyond 2016. What will Labour do, reverse such cuts or stick with them? The public sector unions are waiting for an answer in Manchester.
Public sector reform is looming as a massive issue. Blair said he had scars on his back when he wrestled with this issue. But the economy in 1997 was very different from now. Councils and the health service are going to have to do things differently. Will we hear Labour’s meaningful thoughts on this in Manchester?
What Labour won’t need if they get back to power is a rerun of the Blair/Brown feud in the shape of the two Eds. Shadow Chancellor Ed is prone to defend Gordon Brown’s record. Ed Miliband points out that Labour presided over widening inequalities. The rivalry isn’t intense yet but the potential is there.
LABOUR AND THE LIB DEMS.
While I was in Brighton, I attended some meaty fringe meetings. Meaty in the sense that the Lib Dems were trying to get to grips with two key issues for the future. Do they disengage from the Coalition at any point and what are the prospects of partnering with Labour after 2015?
On unzipping the Coalition, Tim Farron was not a fan. He’s the Party President and I think a potential leader. The Westminster scribes write him off probably because he comes from the North and will always look a bit young. Farron told a fringe meeting that breaking up the Coalition would just let Tory Ministers in and would lead to the accusation that the Lib Dems were unreliable allies who couldn’t stay the course.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton was at the fringe and felt the Lib Dems should get out fast. The cuts were bringing real hardship to the most vulnerable in our society and the Lib Dems were doing serious damage to their reputation by staying in the Coalition she asserted. Making the Tories less nasty didn’t do it for her.
Lord Chris Rennard who cut his teeth in Liverpool politics in the 1970s was against breaking up the Coalition but did believe Lib Dems had to differentiate themselves in the next two years.
Another fringe looked at the possibility of a deal with Labour if there is another hung parliament. Here in the North it’s easy to think that the Lib Dems are natural allies of Labour and what we are witnessing now is an aberration. But down south many rural Lib Dems lean to the right. Nevertheless Labour’s Lord Adonis and MP John Cruddas got a warm reception at the fringe I attended on the prospects of a future Lab-Lib Dem Coalition.
Adonis confessed he wished Labour had introduced the Lib Dems’ pupil premium but overall felt the premise on which the Coalition was founded was shattered. The Tories had got their austerity cuts but the Lib Dems had not secured the constitutional reform they craved.
It was left to former leader Ming Campbell to make the wisest point. Lib Dem and Labour politicians might be texting each other and getting on well but the whole thing could founder on policy.
Quite rightly Ming cited Labour’s political opportunism that had wrecked Lords’ reform. It was a policy Labour had been committed to for years and yet they were prepared to scupper the legislation over the number of days needed for debate in the Commons.
By the way, let’s not hear any more about the southern venues being much more congenial for party conferences from a weather point of view. Blackpool strength winds and Manchester volumes of rain poured down on us.