You wouldn’t have known that both the Labour Party and the economy faced serious problems from some of the fringe meetings at the conference.
A surreal Fabian Society fringe meeting invited Labour ministers and others to answer the question, “Can we give the white working class what they want?”
First of all, the idea that white working class people have different interests to the rest of the working class is a real problem.
But the meeting made clear that New Labour has no concept of the scale of the crisis facing ordinary people in Britain – white or otherwise – nor any understanding of why people are deserting Labour in their droves.
John Denham, minister for innovation, universities and skills, spoke at the meeting. Incredibly, he stated, “We should be very proud of what we’ve done in enabling the economy to prosper.”
Later on he admitted, “We haven’t got the power to promise people there won’t be less jobs in the future.”
The sense of the gaping divide between reality and the fantasies of ministers increased when Hazel Blears, minister for communities, spoke. “If I could sum up the mood of the white working class in one word it would be ambition,” she declared.
So it’s not growing fear about what the future holds and bitter anger about what their supposed representatives are doing about it?
Ministers also said that there is a “cultural and linguistic” gap between them and their former supporters. Labour is doing lots of good things but working class people don’t realise because they’re too stupid to understand.
One speaker from the floor suggested that Labour’s policies, not its language, were the problem.
Blears said that Labour had spent years out of government because people felt Labour could not manage the economy. Labour had “worked hard to convince people that it could run the economy and be pro-business”. For her, this was how Labour became electable.
Some on the platform raised criticisms of Labour’s pandering to the rich. Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, argued for increasing corporation tax and Jon Cruddas MP said that there was a “big case” for a windfall tax on the energy companies.
But there is little chance that New Labour will take up such policies simply because they are suggested by trade union leaders and MPs.