Thursday, 13 May 2010

Will anybody notice Labour this Autumn?

The Liberal Democrats will worry about the risk of disappearing from view, as an independent party, in the House of Commons - as their Ministers and Leaders take questions alongside their Conservative Coalition colleagues. Similarly, they will have to share out the Ministerial airtime.

Labour, as the only major Opposition party, will be strongly placed to scrutinise and challenge the choices in the Emergency Budget this summer.

But, this Autumn, things will be different.

There will be two governing party conferences. The media will be fascinated by the grassroots debates - a chance to hear the Tory and LibDem grassroots challenge their ministers over pressures and tensions in their arranged marriage.

Labour's event will matter to party members but may appear something of a sideshow to a broader public - struggling for attention perhaps much as the LibDem conference has in the past.

That could be particularly difficult for a newly elected leader after a summer contest. After a summer contest, our hyperactive and impatient public political culture will already be asking how they can break through.

So opposing a Coalition is another good reason for Labour to use its Autumn conference to engage as many people as possible in the leadership contest, alongside the core arguments for a proper post-defeat debate, which we have already made.

Tom Watson makes the case at Liberal Conspiracy.

we’re in this for the long haul. And though depressing, it gives us plenty of time to prepare for the next general election.

So why don’t we learn from Michael Howard? Why not turn our conference into a platform for our future leaders. Give a day to each candidate to make their pitch. We could even test their TV skills with a big election-style debate.

The Labour Party couldn’t do this for much of the 1980’s because it was split. Using our conference to focus on potential leaders would have been suicidal. Yet we now have some amazingly talented potential candidates. They’re all broadly pro-european progressive social democrats who can make a difference.

Whichever of them wins, they’re going to lead a newly invigorated Labour party. I’m told 3000 people have joined or re-joined in the last 48 hours. We should give these members the chance to have their say about the future.


rb said...

The next Labour leader will need to be overtly liberal/democratic republican... in order to win back centre-left votes that defected to the liberal democrats over the last decade. Civil liberties and constitutional reform must be high priorities. ID cards should get scrapped for sure.

People aren't going to want an administrative and technocratic party that expounds on neoclassical endogenous growth theory constantly.

Ian & Nina Graham said...

There will also be plenty to 'oppose' in the traditional way, and our opposition needs to take something of the multi-media campaign seen in the election. We can't take our eyes off the ball. Yesterday, even as the Downing Street love-in was provoking BBC reporters to coo over the sound of birdsong in the background, the notion of the 55% majority requirement was slipping out - only to be predictably and entirely overlooked by the commentating media. Our opponents are still the Tories, and it seems they have forgotten nothing of their traditional ruthlessness.

Chris said...

Maybe, but conference as a platform should be the end of the process not the main part for everyone to concentrate on. There's no reason that by the time conference comes around there shouldn't be hours of debates and speeches available for all online.

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks. I am arguing the opposite to you on that.

If we simply use conference to announce the result, we will have a shorter, less deep and lower profile summer contest which will engage fewer people - and the framing around our Autumn conference outside the party may well already become about X's struggle to break through and get noticed.

Chris said...

Sorry to have been unclear - I didn't mean that it should just be the place where the result is annouced but that, in reference to the idea of television debates and all, while it should be the final, it would be a shame if most people only tuned in for the final and ignored the qualifying rounds.

It would also be a shame if it was just a couple of leader and deputy leader TV debates. I think it went a bit unnoticed in Cleggmania but for me and people I know the other TV and radio debates on policy areas ended up being a lot more interesting.

Sunder Katwala said...


- thanks. I misunderstood: do agree. The party audiences are engaged now, and we should open up to party, activist and engaged audiences as much as we can.

- The party conference 'final' will also reach the broad 6 and 10 o'clock news audience and have a good media and public profile.