State of the party: Labour's cautious optimism

Views from the Labour party conference in Liverpool
Views from the Labour party conference in Liverpool

The Labour party faithful talk candidly to about Ed Miliband, poll ratings and Blue Labour.

By Ian Dunt

It's been an anaemic conference season. The Lib Dem gathering was broadly catatonic while a subdued atmosphere pervades Labour's gathering in Liverpool. Here, optimism is mixed with widespread uncertainty. It doesn't help that the latest opinion polls show Labour starting to slip under the Tories for the first time in months.

"Ed's got a lot to prove, especially given Labour's gone down in the ratings," David says. "I think a lot of people look at Ed and think he's young. It's personality more than anything. He's such a nice guy he finds it difficult to be nasty sometimes."

Laura was in Manchester when Miliband was elected but she didn't vote for him. "Our message isn't getting out there," she says. "We've got to have some policies. Miliband's got to be more visible. He's just not making an impact at the moment, and today's polls aren't helping. He's got the shadow of David Miliband and that won't leave him alone."

Not everyone is so sceptical. Anne offers a more favourable assessment. "I think the guy's doing good," she says. "There's time to go – he's building his confidence, he's building his rapport with voters. There's business to be done and people are getting down to it. We know its ages until the next election – probably, anyway - so we've got to set our stall out but do it sensibly and slowly."

The sense of unease around Miliband is readily acknowledged by nearly everyone at conference, but the abiding sentiment is one of cautious optimism. "He's warming up," Michael says. "I don't think he's hit his full stride but that doesn't mean he's been particularly disappointing. I think, as with anyone who's settling in, there's areas he could have done better. He's exceeded my expectations in some areas - phone hacking, for instance. He was calm about it, he didn't jump up and down and start ranting and raving. He was professional and made his point clearly."

Away from Miliband's fortunes, one of the main topics among political journalists at conference is the battle between Purple Labour (regurgitated New Labour), Blue Labour (critical of capitalism and immigration) and Red Labour (formerly called Old Labour). Almost to a man (or - this is Labour, after all - a person), delegates are seriously unimpressed.

"It's all a bit of a nonsense really," David suggests. "First time I'd actually read about it was today," Janice adds. "I thought: 'Oh that's what they're talking about. I haven't a clue which one I would be."

Anne is particularly dismissive. "I joined the Labour party hundreds of years ago and I've got the same card. People can call me whatever they want."


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