Labour conference has now finished. Today was better than the others, but the delegates still struggled to show their enthusiasm when Ed Miliband reappeared on the stage this afternoon. Three people gave him a standing ovation.
The mood at this conference really has been flat. At a fringe run by the Fabian Society last night, I was mildly perturbed as a Spectator journalist to be told by one member that I and other members of the panel were probably being too optimistic about the party’s prospects of getting into government. There have been a few notable moments when delegates seemed quite emotional, including during the powerful speech from 91-year old Harry Smith, which was the warm-up for Andy Burnham’s own well-received speech. But those moments have not carried the conference. Instead there is a weird look of dread on the faces of many members and MPs. They had started after Douglas Carswell’s defection from the Tories to Ukip to say they were now thinking about what government would be really like: now they look a bit horrified by how bad they think it’s going to be.
The conference seemed excited by the idea of getting the Tories out, but not at all by the idea of governing. Ideally, perhaps, someone else could get rid of the Conservative-led Coalition, and then take all the flack for the really difficult decisions that Labour still doesn’t seem to want to talk about.
And because the Shadow Cabinet seems to feel the same, there was very little coming from the stage to encourage delegates, save for the crowd-pleasers on the NHS. Last night at a Demos fringe, one of the members who had been ushered onto the stage to look spellbound as the leader spoke about his plan to be Prime Minister of Britain said he had found it was the exact opposite:
‘You spoke about a love letter. I think that it was a letter sent to the wrong people, that there was an address on that letter that was supposed to be for the British people, whereas it was just for political puppets to just sit there and start clapping. I was on the stage and I felt embarrassed to be on stage listening to him speak…because it just wasn’t a speech that you would say if you were Prime Minister.’
He said Miliband, who he was a fan of, should have made the speech earlier, and that they missed a trick with it. You can listen to it below
Miliband was supposed to be auditioning as Prime Minister this week. And his party was supposed to be showing it was ready for government. But this conference has not helped create the impression that either is possible. The Labour party doesn’t seem to want to be in power, even as it is on the brink of it.