The soap opera they hate to love

Pic: Robert Latham

Sketch of the Labour Party conference in tomorrow’s CNJ

PO-FACED Labour members tell journalists to stop going on about the Miliband brothers, ordering us not to reduce the leadership of their beloved party to a soap opera squabble. A bit hypocryptical given those same members were so transfixed on the screens around conference centre and in the main hall itself on Monday, watching David Miliband deliver his brotherly love on the stage and effectively issue a dewy-eyed farewell.

As he ramped up the emotion with a speech everybody said was better than anything he conjured up during his campaign, members could not look away. They were absolutely hooked, themselves wet around the eyelids. For all their high-minded claims of moving beyond the movie scripts, they were the ones most fascinated by the storyline of a younger brother fighting vote for vote to defeat his more cocksure sibling.

Former Highgate Labour councillor Maggie Cosin, who now lives in Kent, shook her head at the screen, lamenting a missed opportunity for her party as David M left the stage. Still, her ultimate dream would be to see Tony Blair back at the helm.

The fascination with Miliband vs Miliband took over this conference. Decent debates heard at previous conferences in the main hall and at fringe meetings descended into a series of speakers saying one of three things in a sliding scale of colourful language: Conservatives=bad, Lib Dems=bad or Daily Mail=bad.

No need to talk about the future of council housing or how the NHS should be structured to avoid hospitals like the Whittington risking losing celebrated services, the best way to unite seemed to be to hate the enemy together. It’s worked before, but it was a shame there was such scant discussion on policy at the roughing out stage. If this was a forum for ordinary members to feed into the national party’s direction, the conference failed.

Yet everyone there knew that wasn’t the main objective, for this year at least.

It certainly achieved what Ed Miliband and most of the party’s supporters would have wanted. The checklist virtually full of ticked boxes: 1. New leader installed. 2. Lines drawn under the Iraq War with admission that it was wrong. 3. Members united against common enemy (not Tony Blair or Gordon Brown). 4. Disco. 5. Happy journey home.

So even though a lot of the delegates leaving Manchester could not tell you confidently what Ed Miliband wants, whether he is red or not or what the future holds, there is enthusiasm for the task of winning for Labour. There is a taste for opposition, an appetite for the battle ahead.

And members in Camden feel at the forefront of that. It explains why so many travelled north this week. Having won control of the council back in May, they already have a fresh generation in place. Representing the new leader’s home borough and with only a few veterans of administrations past, they feel in the thick of Ed’s new operation whatever that may bring.

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