A lot of Labour’s energy at the moment seems to be spent on internal battles over which faction wins power on which committee, and whether it should be easier to deselect sitting MPs. A measure of whether its conference is a success is whether it manages to talk about what it wants to do in government.
I understand that the leadership’s aim this week is to try to produce an analysis of where society has gone wrong. This sounds rather ‘Broken Britain’, though unsurprisingly the party won’t be using that line. Instead, the tag is ‘rebuilding Britain’, and Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues will be talking about the impact of eight years of austerity, and post-industrialisation, particularly on parts of the UK that feel left behind. This includes towns in areas of the North and the Midlands: something Wigan MP Lisa Nandy has been trying to get her party to pay more attention to for years.
Another issue – which does affect voters in those town that feel as though they are not growing and not getting much of a voice in the national political debate – is the cost of living. Again, this sounds strangely familiar, rather like Ed Miliband circa 2013. But Corbyn’s Labour apparently doesn’t want to announce retail offers like Miliband’s energy price freeze: the plan is to talk about the overall failure of the system. Policy announcements won’t be small ones, but big changes, like the already well-discussed plan to nationalise the railways.
This won’t come as a surprise to anyone, least of all Ed Miliband, who has told friends that he believes the success of Corbyn shows he should have been as radical as he wanted to be when he was Labour leader, rather than listening to people like Ed Balls and a number of his advisers who feared that this would turn more voters off the Labour Party.
What Miliband generally managed to do, though, was to get attention for and debate about his retail offers. Corbyn struggles far more with this because he is always fighting half a dozen internal party battles, and the start of this conference doesn’t suggest that things will be any different.