After conference, Ed Miliband dominates the Labour party like never before. Looking over the party, Team Ed could be excused a certain small sigh of satisfaction. The unions are, if not happy, then emollient. The party membership is willing to follow him. The policy review is in the hands of his chosen visionary.
Furthermore, the senior levels of the party machine are now mostly occupied by key people from the leader’s office. Oh, and by getting rid of shadow cabinet elections, the leader can now use the power to hire and fire to push people in the direction he wishes to go.
And, of course, after winning over the hall with his conference speech, you could not help but get the sense that, for Labour activists at least, Red Ed has been replaced by Captain Fantastic.
So what will this new authority be used to achieve? On one level, it is obvious: ‘One Nation Labour’, rights and responsibilities, vocational education. Action on rip-offs, a business bank, reform of immigration. Together, these could form the basis of a strong electoral offering.
Talk to people close to the leadership, and you get a sense they are frustrated that they have had to do the heavy lifting themselves, taking the risks of venturing onto new ground, with only limited support.
In the aftermath of his triumph at conference – and it was a triumph – Miliband will expect his team to be much stronger in promoting his agenda and in bringing it to detailed policy life. He will want them to drive the policy review process, be louder cheerleaders for One Nation Labour, and bigger champions of Miliband’s Labour party.
Saying ‘get on board, or get out of the way’ is a winner’s prerogative, and Miliband looks more like a winner than ever before.
But while Captain Miliband clearly scooped the conference man of the match award, how did the rest of the team do?
A conference of two halves
Chuka Umunna had the strangest conference of the shadow cabinet. He was everywhere at the fringe, making excellent speeches, and receiving the sort of reaction usually reserved for visiting celebrities. He was a surefire, 100 per cent star. When he got onto the main pitch, however, he produced a leaden, somewhat slowfooted performance.
Perhaps this was deliberate, as Umunna was in the ‘don’t upstage the shadow chancellor’ slot, after all. Perhaps it was a reflection of his loyalty to the leader – his big policy announcements on vocational education were in the leader’s speech. Perhaps it was simple tiredness. You cannot do five or six fringes a day without losing a certain bit of zip. Whatever it was, fix it for next time, because if conference taught your insider one thing, it is that there is huge eagerness for a high-wattage Umunna.
Solid at the back
Plaudits should go to pensions spokesman Gregg McClymont, who not only delivered a crunching tackle to the pensions industry at the start of conference, but also selflessly passed the policy to his captain so that Miliband could slip it into the back of the net. Good selfless work there, from a box-to-box performer.
Women’s captain Harriet Harman produced another storming effort, demonstrating why the veteran defender of women’s rights is one of the most under-rated players in the modern game. Whether it is delivering on selection policies, securing a dedicated women’s conference, or getting her potshots in on hapless journalists, Harman showed that she has got what it takes to compete at the highest level.
On the other hand, Yvette Cooper produced a quietly effective performance, though some critics felt the economy of her play was excessively understated. There is a whole host of rising women stars wondering if they might be ready for the big time, and Cooper might need to show a little more pizzazz if she wants to stay the star.
Own goals not galore
Few terrible errors for the red team in Manchester, except for one foolish fan who decided it would be a great idea to heckle one of the academy squad. No one wants that kind of support, and the condemnations came in thick and fast. Still, one fan saying the wrong thing is nothing compared to last time in Manchester, when the hattrick-winning former captain was booed.
On the wings
Noticeable energy on the left wing at this conference. Whether it was Paul Kenny and Len McCluskey putting in a tackle on Ed Balls early doors, or youth team sensation Owen Jones driving the crowds wild, there is an undeniable buzz on the left.
Yet we do not know yet whether the leftwingers are going to make it into the first team squad. They are staying quiet for now, but if the manager decides he needs to put pressure on his opponents by going through the centre, we might see the mercurial wingers expressing their frustrations in public.
Back in Westminster
As MPs gather back at Westminster, one significant backroom change is coming. We have got a new secretary of the parliamentary Labour party, a job which involves being secretary to the shadow cabinet, keeping the link between the front and back benches strong and giving Labour MPs campaign ammunition for re-election.
The lucky man is former Hilary Benn adviser Wesley Ball, who was an early Miliband supporter and is also a former Labour staffer and aide to Lambeth leader Steve Reed. Ball will be taking over from the much-liked Martin O’Donovan, and his appointment completes the senior management shake-up of the Labour party under Iain McNicol.
Cartoon: Adrian Teal
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.