Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

What can Labour do in the south?

Ed Miliband speaks at a question and answer session in Manchester Photo: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

A year ago, Labour delegates from the south headed to Liverpool, worried by claims that Ed Miliband wasn't up to the job. In other words, they'd picked the wrong Miliband. The Tories were looking supremely confident. It was the Lib Dems who were taking most of the flak for the Government's unpopularity.

The Budget changed everything. The Pasty fiasco made the Government look shambolic. The cut in the 50p top tax rate made them look, to many people, cruel and out of touch. Suddenly, to many, it didn't seem like we were all in this together (at the time a brilliantly successful slogan but one which has now come back to haunt the Government).

This was a gift for Ed Miliband, and fitted perfectly with his portrayal of the Cabinet as a bunch of toffs who don't understand the ordinary problems faced by ordinary people. Almost overnight the political landscape changed.

Labour's lead in the opinion polls often reached double figures. Economic data continued to get worse. Labour's claim, that Plan A wasn't working, was looking more than plausible. Labour did well (well but not brilliantly) in the local elections in May.

They stormed to power in Reading and Southampton, two key areas for Labour where they must win seats back at the general election if they are to win nationally. Ed Miliband, portrayed by many as a loser just a year ago, began to look more like a leader.

When a protester smashed an egg on his lapel while I was interviewing him in May, he calmly took his jacket off and carried on talking. He became a bit if a You Tube sensation."That egg did me a lot of good," he told me a few months later.

So this week in Manchester, many fewer people are asking questions about the leadership. But there will be questions about policy. What are Labour's policies on schools, hospitals, the environment? And above all, what is their economic plan and will voters in the south and south east find it credible?

As Ed Miliband, and his deputy Harriet Harman, will say repeatedly this week: Labour must make much more progress in the Meridian region. They must make break throughs in our region, as they did in 1997, if they want to form the next Government.

Well, if they want to form the next government without having to ask the Lib Dems to join them in coalition. And at the moment, very few Labour members would want to contemplate that.