I thought this was going to be the conference which confirmed the direction that the Labour Party would be taking after their election defeat. Policy commissions had been set up which duly reported in the summer of this year. One would presume that after tidying up by the various party committees, each policy initiative would have been summarised in a proposition for conference to approve. Instead, as I understand it, the proposals are to be distributed to the grass roots for their comments in a new Web-based consultation exercise. It looks like pushing unpalatable (either to the executive or to the party's backers) decisions over the horizon.
I shall probably be told that it's all a part of the new spirit of localism and democracy which has been injected into the party. Certainly, that is to be welcomed. But there are signs that it was a fairly late decision not to stage policy debates in Manchester. Large slabs of time have been taken up by non-party events. There was the stimulating seminar led by Michael Sandel on the theme of the market economy on the opening day. Today, we saw the very ecumenical (Conservative peer Seb Coe featured prominently) celebration of the successes of the London Olympics.
Some ideas have been thrown out by shadow ministers, but there is no sign that they have been through the mill of Labour's democratic processes. There were presentations of laudable local initiatives, like food banks. There was a strong feeling for the Union with Scotland. On substantive changes in formal policy, not a word.
So far, this has been a conference dedicated to polishing Labour's image and, for the faithful, of improving the mechanisms of winning elections, though very little about what they would change if they do win.