The Labour Party meets in Manchester this week against a turbulent economic backcloth. Most people will be watching the news and reading the paper with a growing sense of anxiety about their jobs, mortgages, and savings. People know that food and petrol cost more than a few months ago. They will be worried about the bills, with Christmas around the corner. It seems clearer every day that the Chancellor’s assessment of the trajectory of the world economy was correct. We are heading into some really tough times.
So the big task for Labour is to show the country that we are addressing the economic challenges. We’ve laid the right foundations, with low interest rates, historically low levels of government debt, and high employment. We can show that national governments can make a difference, even in the face of seismic global events. People don’t expect governments to be able to work miracles; but they don’t expect governments to twiddle their thumbs and leave everything to the market. So Alistair Darling’s speech on Monday will be as significant as the Prime Minister’s on Tuesday. People will be rightly watching both with huge interest.
I am delighted that we are back in Manchester for Labour conference. Manchester is such a strong symbol of what a Labour Government and Labour council can achieve together. The local leadership in Manchester have shown real vision over the past decade, and it has paid off. There’s a buzz about Manchester, whether it is the vibrancy of Canal Street and the Curry Mile, the awe-inspiring Beetham Tower, or the creativity and entrepreneurialism of the Northern Quarter. It feels so different from the Tory years, and the boarded-up shops, unemployed youngsters, and flight to the suburbs which hollowed out the city centre.
So we must take on the Tories. It is clear that their strategy is to move onto the centre ground, and mirror Labour. But underneath the gloss are the same old right-wing Tories, with their agenda of cuts to public services and the voluntary sector. Just as the Tory conferences in the 1980s were ruthlessly focussed on trashing Labour’s leaders and policies, so we need to target Cameron, Osborne and the rest. Our week in Manchester should aim to put the Tories under the microscope, and reveal to the world whatever bacillus is crawling around.