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By Peter Hoskin
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Labour’s five-day jamboree
ends today. There will be a closing speech by Harriet Harman at lunchtime, as
well as some prior talks, before everyone leaves Manchester to the Greatest Football Team in the World,
and decamps to their constituencies and to London. So apologies if this quick
list of the things we’ve learnt from the Labour conference is a little premature,
but I can’t see things changing much this morning. Here goes:

1) In  terms of presentation,
Labour are turning blue.
In my ConHome
column
on Tuesday, I wrote that the most important aspect of the Labour conference
was how “Ed Miliband’s party is straying onto territory usually occupied by the
Conservatives” — and that was even before the “One Nation” speech that Mr
Miliband delivered later that day. From the emphasis on property ownership to Yvette
Cooper’s claim
that Labour are “now the party of policing”, from the
rediscovered patriotism to the blue backdrop of the main stage, there appeared
to be a concerted effort to broaden the party’s appeal rightwards. “Red Ed no more,”
was the message. “Vote for Blue Ed.”

2) In terms of substance, Labour are staying red. But look beyond the performances and the stage lighting, and the
(few) policies that Labour are espousing are still dripping red. There’s the
example I used in my column: the party’s drive towards property ownership is
based around more and more spending, and implicitly critiques Thatcher-era
policies such as the Right to Buy. But we saw it too in those moments when
Labour’s speakers tore up the Tory copybook, such as when Andy Burnham railed
against “privatisation”
in the NHS. Some of this is Labour staying on their
comfort ground but, to my eyes, some of it is more than that. They’re trying to
create a new generation of Labour voters by wrapping left-wing policies in
centrist, or even right-wing, language.


3) The spreading influence of Jon Cruddas. This was, in many respects, CruddasCon2012. The smart and decent MP
for Dagenham and Rainham was recently put in charge of Labour’s policy review —
and it shows. He has been encouragng his party to cover traditional Tory ground (such as immigration, Europe and the Big Society) for
years now, just as he has been pushing for “a
crusade to build homes”
. The ‘One Nation’ theme — although it apparently owes
much
to my old university tutor Prof. Marc Stears — also feels like typical
Cruddas, in that it fits in with his
search
for “political sentiment, voice and language; of general definition
within a national story”. One thing to look out for is whether Labour start reaching
out more specifically to England, as Mr Cruddas has suggested
in the past.

4) Labour still doesn’t have a clear plan for the public finances. As I said before
the conference
, a thread can be woven through all of Labour’s messages on
the public finances — but it’s a tricky task, and it’s not one that the party
succeeded in completing in Manchester. What we got instead were the now familiar
promises that Labour would cut public spending in future, but when it came to
offering some detail … erm, ah, too far, too fast. Ed Miliband didn’t
even mention the deficit once
in his speech, and his team were quick
to slap down
Liam Bryne’s suggestion that universal benefits could be for
the chop under a Labour government. So much for zero-based
thinking
.

As a quick
side-note: it might be said that Mr Miliband doesn’t need to provide detail on
the public finances yet, so far out from an election. But I reckon that we’re
now in an Age of Detail, where it’s necessary for politicians to talk about
these things more than that might have in the past. My guess is that people are
more familiar with concepts such as national borrowing nowadays, and they
expect more than easy opportunism.

5) For
them, it’s increasingly personal.
Labour didn’t just stray onto Tory
territory, they wanted to leave some Tory bodies lying in the sand there too.
Even Ed Miliband’s “One Nation” speech got stuck into David Cameron — “He’s going to be
getting the millionaire’s tax cut” — as it called for unity and understanding
all round. Yvette Cooper’s contained an extended
attack
on Andrew Mitchell, claiming that “Once
again it’s one rule for the Cabinet, another for the plebs.” Of course, such is the rough and tumble of parliamentary politics. But
it’s also indicative of a wider shift: Labour used to attack the Coalition’s
overall policy to cut public spending more directly, now they’re just as likely
to attack the people implementing those cuts.

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