By Joshua Eldridge, Consultant, London
PI’s party conference team have returned to the London office after a very active few days in Manchester. A strong line-up and prime positioning ensured that the inaugural TechCentral policy hub (sponsored by Hotwire & Political Intelligence) was a great success; it promises to become a regular feature during the annual party conference season. TechCentral hosted a number of stimulating debates on topical tech issues including privacy, coding, mobile voting and start-ups. With over 500 fringe events to choose from, PI’s sector guides proved invaluable and ensured the team ticked off all the key events with relevance to tech, energy, health and property sectors.
A series of under-whelming party speeches ensured there were few performances from the main conference hall to write home about. An emotionally charged speech from 91-year-old campaigner Harry Smith and a fiery display from Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham MP constituted the only moments of interest amongst an otherwise dreary display, with Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander MP particularly to blame. However, despite some lacklustre speaking performances there were still a number of major policy announcements that will strike a chord with many; namely on the NHS, the minimum wage, the so-called ‘mansion’ tax and to build “as many homes as we need”. Unsurprisingly for a Labour conference, the NHS figured strongly throughout and suggests that the forthcoming Labour campaign will focus on historically ‘safe’ Labour party issues and push the image of the Tories as the “enemy of the NHS”.
The cost of living debate remained prominent and Labour reaffirmed their commitment to an energy price freeze, adding that it would constitute a policy ‘red line’ in any coalition discussions. The Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint MP made an impressive number of appearances at energy sector discussions and receptions in the build-up to her headline energy efficiency announcements (and ahead of Ed’s muddled decarbonisation pledge). This latest burst of activity on energy issues further highlights Labour’s efforts to bolster their energy policy offerings and to amplify their support for the low carbon agenda.
The end of party conference season will see campaigning efforts start to shift up a gear as electoral battle-lines become more clearly defined. Cameron and Osborne will strive to paint Labour as economically irresponsible and will continue to poke fun at “Weird Ed’s” failure to mention immigration or the deficit in the leader’s speech. By the time Parliament returns in mid-October, Labour will need to have provided clarity over the detail of proposed income raising measures (such as the Mansion tax and ‘big tobacco tax’) in order to avoid easy criticism over their future spending plans.
For a step by step rundown of the main policy lessons from the Labour conference, check out our Top 10 #Lab14 takeaways.
Now with less than 8 months to go until the General Election, conference-weary Labour supporters will now be asking themselves one question; was it all worth it?
Only time will tell but as the winning entry to Political Intelligence’s unofficial caption competition shows, Ed Miliband seems confident…
WINNING CAPTION: Mr Miliband, will you be addressing next year’s Conference as the British Prime Minister?
And on that note we turn our gaze towards the forthcoming Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham (#cpc14) and suggest that you make life easier for yourself with our sector-specific Fringe Guides.