If we learnt nothing else from this afternoon’s question-and-answer session that Ed Miliband held with delegates, it’s that Labour delegates are quite as eccentric as Liberal Democrat members, if not more so. The junior coalition partner has long enjoyed the reputation of having an eclectic following, but those gathered in Labour’s hall had bought an equally surreal selection of props with them today. They were waving Welsh flags, builder’s helmets, sparkly bags, light-up handheld fans, light-up pens, scarves, crutches, something that looked strangely like a strip light, flashing lights, and open umbrellas.
The idea, as well as making the conference hall look rather like a bazaar, was to catch Ed Miliband’s attention by vigorously waving said strange object. Wearing red also worked a treat (Ed clearly works on the same basis as Leftwing Dating when identifying loyal lefties), although when he picked one ‘lady in red’, she announced proudly that he’d given her a kiss at the Labour south east conference. Another woman later told the conference hall that she too had been kissed by the Labour leader only yesterday. No wonder the chap has grown in confidence recently.
Miliband was indeed rather confident when he appeared on stage. Yesterday’s speech was good for him, and he clearly enjoyed the Q&A – although he did at several points warn delegates that he didn’t want them to remove any more garments to get his attention. And the audience appreciated his answers.
But the answer that received the biggest cheer gave us a glimpse of how much hard work the Labour leader has to do. He confirmed that he would indeed be present at the TUC’s mass demonstration in London on 20 October. The delegates loved this. Keeping the unions happy is still desperately important to Miliband: only yesterday Brendan Barber was calling for him to ‘show some sympathy and respect’ for striking workers. But having to bow to groups which campaign so vociferously for the status quo in key sectors such as education not only undermines Miliband’s power but also suggests that on his One Nation project, the ‘working together’ that he was so keen to promote will involve the unions continuing to push for their own agenda for the Labour party. Which isn’t really working together, but being in hock.