It’s been quite a morning at Labour Party Conference. Although the talk of the town has been David Miliband’s gracious and heartfelt speech as Shadow Foreign Secretary, my interest also lay with EPLP Leader Glenis Willmott.
Speaking to conference delegates, Glenis pointed to the work being done by Labour’s team in the European Parliament: “Day in, day out, Labour MEPs are still making laws for the whole of the UK.”
Focussing on examples of recent wins, covering civil liberties, social protections and banking regulation, she told the conference that even when Labour is out of power in Westminster it can still make a real difference by acting in Brussels.
She went on to say: “The political battles we fight are not with Europe. They are with the right – in Brussels, at home and elsewhere.
“And in this battle Europe can be our ally.”
“It’s wrong that within our own party, we still regard the European Parliament as being over there. We still see the EU as merely a branch of foreign policy. Don’t forget: over there is also over here.
“Conference, up until now Labour hasn’t quite “got it” on Europe. “But I’m delighted to say that Ed (Miliband)”get’s it”.”
Appealing for party unity, David declared: “no more cliques, no more factions, no more soap opera.” He even went as far as to quote Labour’s fourth leader, John Robert Clynes, who said Labour politicians went into politics “not to practice class war, but to end it”.
At the heart of the speech was what David called “hard-headed internationalism”. On Afghanistan, he said: “we’re not an occupying army, we’re trying to prevent an occupation.” He also reminded delegates that foreign armies never end civil wars. In addition, in what looks like an unaccustomed outbreak of consensus, he promised to support David Cameron if he did the right thing. “When he takes risks for peace, we will be the first to congratulate him every step of the way.”
David looked very inch the statesman. Those of us who supported David for the Leadership of the Labour Party must now unite behind his brother to take us to victory and a Labour government.
The final big speech of the morning was Alistair Darling, not as he himself lamented ever the “darling” of conference, but an excellent Chancellor of the Exchequer and a likeable, understated politician.
In his last weighty conference speech Alistair said that Labour should be proud of its record in power, “Proud in the way we changed Britain for the better, in ways big and small.”
He accused the coalition government of gambling with the economic upturn kickstarted by the previous Labour administration.
Although Alistair had himself planned spending cuts to bring down the deficit, it would have been done at a lower and slower rate while continuing to invest in public services.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that there is no difference between us and the coalition …we never have been, and never will be the same,” he told us in no uncertain terms.
“The Tories are using the need to reduce borrowing as a way of dismantling the support millions depend on,” and their Liberal Democrat partners are passively going along with cuts targeted on the poor and needy.
Alistair also said that to abandon Labour’s balanced approach will put tens of thousands of jobs at risk and hit the living standards of millions of people.