One of the rituals of Labour Party conference is the scrum in the press room when tickets to the leader’s speech are being allocated. Demand routinely exceeds supply, and, in the best egalitarian traditions, reputation counts for little in the scramble for seats (your correspondent found himself behind one of the doyens of the commentariat in the queue). We’ll know at lunchtime if we’ve got a ticket, apparently – unsuccessful applicants will have to watch on the screens in the press room, an unforgivingly strip-lit hanger on an upper floor of the conference centre.
Just as ritualistic are the declarations that the leader, whoever he is, has to give the “speech of his life” at conference after a difficult summer. This might actually be true in Ed Mliliband’s case this year. As I wrote in my piece in the September issue of Prospect, the slow progress of Labour’s policy review means there’s considerable pressure on Miliband to add some substance to the “One Nation” rhetoric he unveiled in his conference speech in 2012.
We learned overnight that Miliband will commit Labour in his speech to a massive house-building programme. This will involve the development of new towns, a policy in which one can discern the hand of Andrew Adonis. In his long and critical essay on the record of London mayor Boris Johnson in the current issue of Prospect, Adonis calls for the establishment of new towns as part of the development of the East Thames corridor. Adonis will no doubt find solace in Miliband’s announcement; yesterday, he had to listen to the shadow chancellor Ed Balls threaten to withdraw Labour support for High Speed 2, a project for which Adonis is a particularly enthusiastic advocate. At a fringe meeting last night, Adonis was asked to respond to Balls’s remarks. He said that they put the onus on the government to keep costs under control. “All they’ve done since coming to office is add £10bn to it,” he said. The current projected cost of HS2 is £42.6bn, money that many in the party think could be better spent elsewhere.
The most melancholy sight of the day was that of the MP Michael Meacher sitting patiently next to a pile of copies of his new book, The State We Need. According to Meacher’s website, the book promises a “coherent and detailed vision around which progressive forces might group”. Unfortunately, those progressive…