Labour conference: One-nation under an Ed?

One Nation backdrop

Labour's spin doctors don't call it a rebranding - but that is certainly what it looks like.

Bleary-eyed delegates wandered into the conference hall in Manchester on Wednesday morning to discover that the backdrop to the main stage, bearing the legend "Rebuilding Britain", had been demolished.

In its place, as a backdrop to every speaker, is the slogan "One Nation". The official line is that Labour is now "rebuilding Britain as one nation" (a bit of a mouthful!).

And I'm told this One Nation slogan isn't just for conference.

Just as Labour became "New Labour" under Tony Blair, we will increasingly hear the shadow cabinet use "One Nation" as a prefix to the party's name in interviews and speeches. This process began with Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper's speech on Wednesday morning.

'Rescue capitalism'

The language is designed to appeal to voters on the centre ground of politics who are feeling abandoned and let down by David Cameron, having trusted him at the last election.

What do Labour members think?

Brenda Sanders
  • Brenda Sanders, Wallasey: "I haven't quite got the concept of one-nation because we're such a mish-mash in the middle aren't we? I will think about it, but at the moment I'm not sure one nation is a goer with me."
  • Cllr Simon Greaves, Bassetlaw: "I think it was a stroke of genius - stealing a march on the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. I think it's exactly what the party needed. It's not Tory branding, it's Labour branding. It's Labour going on the offensive and taking the initiative. I think it's going to go down well across Britain."
  • Cllr Nana Asante, Harrow: "I think it's a call for us to remember that we stand for one thing - we stand for social justice and equality and to work towards that together. Good ideas don't come along often and I think it was a Labour slogan before the Conservative stole it, so we're just taking it back.

But to be fair, it is more than a rebranding exercise.

Party strategists say it signifies a new approach which doesn't just distinguish Labour from the Conservatives but takes Ed Miliband - in their words - "beyond New Labour".

And they are briefing their own MPs about what that new approach means.

For example: They are being told that while New Labour was about aspiration - helping people from poorer backgrounds into university - One Nation Labour is also about those who have been left behind.

While New Labour was relaxed about people getting richer, One Nation Labour is concerned about the gap between rich and poor.

While New Labour more fairly distributed the benefits of a growing economy, One Nation Labour will have to "rescue capitalism from itself".

It is quite easy to fit some policies aimed at the top and bottom of society in to this template - for example, as those with the broadest shoulders should bear the biggest burden, there would be a new levy on banker's bonuses.

Because the less academically inclined can too easily fall into low paid, unskilled jobs- or languish on the dole queue - vocational training would be revamped.

Left wing territory

But while the new slogan gives Ed Miliband's Labour Party much-needed definition, it also comes with significant challenges.

For example during the party's welfare review, should a One Nation Labour Party defend the principle of universal benefits - or would its concern for the poor cost, for example, better off pensioners their winter fuel allowance?

If One Nation Labour doesn't want people to be left behind and so compels companies which receive government contracts to provide better training and higher wages, is there a danger that businesses will find it too expensive to recruit and the gap between the "two nations" of unemployed and employed grows?

The Conservatives might also suggest that while the rhetoric of "one-nation" is meant to invoke the spirit of Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the reality of Labour's policies is that they remain rooted in left wing territory.

But here in Manchester there is relief amongst Labour's critics of Ed Miliband that, after two years as their leader, he has at last found a message which might just resonate beyond the conference hall.

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