Ed’s speech was a barnstormer. He came into conference the most secure of all the party leaders, but that didn’t stop the inevitable chatter around his leadership from the press. This might. The press have seen now what I saw in Ed before the leadership contest, and what led to me supporting him.
Ed can leave Manchester very happy. He’s done what he needed to do, and he – at least for now – has turned a page. Whether the press is capable of turning its too remains to be seen. I hope so – the public deserve a better debate than whether Ed is too weird, too geeky, or too ugly to run the country.
“One Nation” Labour has gone down very well. It’s largely seen as moving his tanks onto David Cameron’s lawn (how could it not be when it invokes the memory of Tory prime minister Disraeli) for me the “one nation” label has long suited Labour more than Tories who struggle to represent more than a fringe few in Scotland and Wales.
Tories gave it up long ago. Thatcherism was a conscious move away from one nation Toryism. As a result, large swathes of our nation moved away from the Tories. How can you be “one nation” when you represent so little of Scotland, Wales and the north of England? “One nation” became Tory modern – the Cameronites who were going to decontaminate the nasty party. They failed and the price of their failure seems to be that even their leader has abandoned them as he gives in to his right flank, betraying his personal weakness, but also the weakness of the brand that was supposed to be modern, compassionate “one-nation” Toryism.
But Labour has to take this notion of “one nation” beyond the conference hall and into our policy debate. What will that mean for us long term?
Well for a start, it will mean we need to give up our own favourite false dichotomies. In One Nation Labour, it can’t be about the North v the South – both competing for Labour’s attention or being treated as proxies in the battle for Labour’s soul. Rebalancing our economy can’t be a straight north for south swap – the differences between affluent Cheshire and struggling Thanet – for example – give lie to the idea that anything is that simple.
It also can’t be a case of working class against the rich. That leaves too many people – at different levels of financial security – out of the conversation altogether. Ed’s first “one nation” move to pitch to the squeezed middle – a place so many of us identify as belonging.
In policy terms, the key announcements of this conference have all fitted this theme. Housing, education and apprenticeships are all of interest not just to the young people who might directly benefit, but also to their families and those who look to the lot of the next generation not with envy, as used to be the case, but with horror. Not failing our promise to that next generation will be key to the success of “one nation” labour.
Part of Ed’s pitch yesterday, was about what he won’t be. He won’t be casually cruel as this government seems to so many. He equally won’t be promising what he is not able to deliver. The message on pay freezes is consistent – it’s not ideal, but it’s better than job losses. A deal must be struck between Labour and Britain in which the truth is told and trust is regained.
One nation Labour is the Labour of the Olympic spirit. A time that showed just how powerful the spirit of collectivism is in this country really is. While we rightly celebrated the athlete’s individual triumphs, we also celebrated ourselves and the best we can be as a nation. It is this spirit of optimism that has the power to carry Labour over the finishing line in 2015.
Correctly harnessed with the right emblematic policies, the right campaign and the right message, Labour has the chance to make “one nation” Labour our new reality and David Cameron’s worst nightmare. We need now to move this spirit beyond the rarefied atmosphere of conference and into the communities and lives of the voters we serve. Ed yesterday showed Labour a path that all but the most die-hard sceptic could recognise as a way forward. Now we must have the commitment to complete the journey.