Our second Beyond the Bubble fringe event – this time at the Labour conference – was perhaps the hardest for us to pitch. “What’s the story?”, we kept asking ourselves. Are Labour doing well or not?
Eventually we settled on Is ‘good’ good enough? Labour are ahead in our polls – and have been for most of the year – but have they done enough yet to really convince the public?
You can see our Head of Politics, Gideon Skinner’s presentation below so I thought I’d give you a flavour of what our panellists, Hilary Benn MP, Chuka Umunna MP and Jodie Ginsberg, from Reuters, said on the question.
, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons and former secretary of state kicked off with an impassioned speech arguing that Labour will leave this conference in a far stronger position, with a clear plan on the economy. Acknowledging that the economy is the number one issue for the public, Mr Benn contended that this conference has allowed Labour to consolidate its message and the party now needs to concentrate on communicating this to voters.
In the new era of coalition politics, however, he noted that the media are focused on making headlines out of disagreements between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, making it difficult for Labour make itself heard.
Mr Benn went on to tell the room that Labour was now reconciled with its past, enabling it to move forward. Labour must leave the conference with a strong and positive message, he said, and the party now has the confidence – and the right leader – to take the fight to the country.
) – part of the 2010 intake and Shadow Business Minister – was very honest in his assessment that following the economic crash Labour “got the policy right but the politics wrong”. From his perspective, he felt that the party gave the wrong impression that it was not worried enough about the deficit – although this had been corrected by Ed Balls’ speech at conference.
He also argued that the distraction of the leadership election allowed the Tories to make the running in the debate about the cause of and best response to the deficit and need for cuts. Despite this, Mr Umunna clearly believes that time has now passed and, while his party is “under no illusions about the scale of the task ahead”, he, like Mr Benn, is convinced they can succeed.
Both Mr Benn and Mr Umunna stressed however that simply waiting for voters to come back to Labour because they were unhappy with the government was insufficient; Labour needed to win votes by ensuring that people had a positive reason to vote for them. In particular, Mr Umunna felt that Ed Miliband’s conception of ‘fairness’ in his conference speech will really strike a chord with many people.
Jodie Ginsberg, Bureau Chief at Reuters and the sponsor of all three Beyond the Bubble events ended with a warning that the public are put off when political parties become insular and talk to themselves. All parties need to improve their ability to communicate with the public at large and engage with their priorities and concerns – and at the moment, their ‘gut instinct’ was to go with the Tories.
Both Mr Umunna and Mr Benn seemed confident that although it will be a ‘long haul’, this conference has given Labour the platform from which to go and spread its message.