A Summary of the Labour Conference – Autumn 2012

The quote ‘One Nation’ has become a National mantra for supporters of the Labour party after the recent party conference in Manchester came to a close this week. Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour party, demonstrated what some critics have described as being the ‘utmost resilience and determination’, in an attempt to restore the Labour party to its former glory. Miliband spoke candidly about his hopes to advocate a ‘One Nation’ party, which to many people is a simple reminder of an earlier broadcast by the post – 1945 One Nation group of Tories led by Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli had hoped to unite the country through fiscal discipline, self-reliance and building on historic strengths, unlike Miliband’s hope of leading the country on the basis of sufficient support from active trade unions and diligent Labour supporters.

When questioned about the meaning of ‘One Nation’ by the Today Programme on Radio 4, Miliband explained that it was firstly, ‘a country where everybody has a stake: Young people should get back to work and the 50% who do not go to university are not left out’. Secondly, it also means prosperity being ‘evenly shared’ and no tax cuts just for the rich. Thirdly, it means ‘defending our shared way of life’. Labour supporters have argued that Miliband’s defiant reasoning is a far cry from the meaning behind the Tory predecessor’s phrase. One important explanation for Miliband’s use of the phrase was his desire to take a different approach for the Labour party; Miliband’s Labour party should no longer be labelled as ‘new’ or ‘old’ according to Labour supporters. For example, instead of complying with the ways of old Labour which were about protecting sectional interest, or agreeing to the terms of new Labour, who were a party too timid to stand up to the City, Miliband hopes to re-establish the Labour party as a successful rival to the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition. The BBC have suggested that ‘One Nation’ is a rebranding ‘exercise’ as significant as Tony Blair’s decision to christen his party as ‘New Labour’.

Some of the pledges discussed by Miliband are closely related to the AS Level course this year and many of these issues can be used as examples for the argument of new versus old Labour. For example, Miliband was keen to discuss his favour for voting to take place from the age of 16. Miliband stated that had 16 year olds been given the opportunity to vote from as early as 2010, George Osborne’s decision to abolish the educational maintenance allowance (EMAs) would not have happened. Although there is divided opinion about 16 year olds being given the right to vote, the Labour party leader was confident in the ability of citizenship education as means of solving voter apathy amongst the younger generation. Miliband also stated that if Labour were voted into power, the maximum cost of tuition fees would be £6,000, calling this pledge a ‘help, but not a magic solution’.

In relation to devolution in Wales, Miliband was repeatedly asked whether he would help the Welsh government improve education in Wales. He explained that under devolution, decisions are rightly being taken in Wales; ‘if devolution is good enough for Scotland and Wales, it should be good enough for English local government’. This supports the argument for Devolution and declares the Labour party as supporters of local empowerment. Another important decision which could affect the ever increasing voter apathy which exists in the UK, was Ed Miliband’s focus on the lower classes. Prime Minister David Cameron recently declared that there would be more cuts to welfare benefits for the poor, however, Miliband encouraged more active participation from the poor by their being able to stand as a member of parliament. The Labour party argues that this will encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to take an interest in politics and participate in the democratic process, thus eliminating the constant battle for increasing public participation in the democratic process of an election.

The next eagerly anticipated political party conference is the Conservative conference, which will take place from Monday 8th October. Tory backbenchers are hopeful that Prime Minister David Cameron will present the former half of the coalition government as rightful leaders of the UK’s promising political future. For the time being, however, Ed Miliband’s plea for a ‘One Nation’ focused government is very much at the forefront of many of the nations’ mind.

By Stephanie Rezai

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