Labour Conference 2011 - Timorous and banalPosted by Alexander Hay
Lacking red meat, or substantial policy announcements, this year's Labour Conference was more a demonstration of how the party simply doesn't know how to respond to the post-Blair, post-Brown era
What does this week's Labour Conference say about the party a of 2011? An initial glance suggests it's not really offering anything new.
Take Ed Miliband's announcement about tuition fees. Having apparently jettisoned all notions of a graduate tax, Labour's new selling point is not raising the cost of a degree by three times, they'll simply double it.
Yes, the poverty of expectations is such that Labour wants you to vote it back into power so it will only charge your children or grandchildren twice over while the ConDem government will do it three times as hard.
Needless to say, this has proven somewhat unconvincing, with the Conservatives gleefully accusing him of a u-turn, not dispelled by faint promises that Labour might possibly return to a graduate tax - or not.
Similarly, Shadow Chancellor Ed Ball's five point plan to save the economy lacks - for example - anything bold, along the lines of Cameron's 2007 proposal to cut inheritance tax. Cutting VAT for home improvements and building 25000 new houses, when we are facing a 750,000 house shortfall by 2025, will hardly re-energise the country either, and the impression given off by the proposals is an overwhelming sense of bland fiddling about while bigger issues, such as tax and the banking system are dealt with only gently.
Indeed, if there is a clear narrative at the conference, it's how sorry Labour really is. Such as, for things like squandering the tax windfall of the pre-2008 boom or apologising profusely for Iraq or Harriet Harman being very sorry that David Miliband didn't win the party leadership at last year's conference.
Certainly, Tory claims that Labour is addicted to debt ring hollow, simply because the government's inverse obsession with cuts, not to mention an actual rise in the rate of borrowing, may be as if not more ruinous.
Instead, Labour offers a certain timorousness, with Ed Balls asking the Unions not to strike and declaring he won't reverse all the cuts, and Ed Miliband himself looking rather like a slightly befuddled maths teacher trying desperately to organise an after-school computer club.
Meanwhile a worldwide debt crisis looms and the Eurozone is falling to pieces. Being somewhat inoffensive and not Tory simply isn't enough any more. On the basis of this week's display so far, Labour's remaining MPs may not be swapping sides of the Commons Chamber any time soon.
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