But away from the conference hall, in the bars, exhibition halls and in a multitude of fringe meetings a sense of unreality and anti-climax had settled over the conference.
Ed Miliband’s victory in the party leadership election had caused shock. The narrow margin of his victory (a mere 1.3%), and the role of union members’ votes in his success, meant that the majority of those attending conference (mostly MPs, MEPs and activists) had not voted for eventual winner.
What followed over the next few days was a process of collective mental adjustment as the party tried to come to terms with the unexpected result. Early on dissenters raised the unflattering comparison with Iain Duncan Smith – a leader who was put in place by the Conservative party membership with little support from his parliamentary colleagues, and was ultimately forced out as a result. Doom-mongers were claiming that the party had thrown away its chances of re-election in 2015.
Away from the soap opera of the leadership contest, a sense of policy inertia set in over the direction of economic policy. Was the party going to back Alistair Darling’s plan to halve the deficit over four years? Or would it follow Ed Balls’ approach and seek to reduce the level of debt over a much longer period?
Some clarity and a sense of renewed enthusiasm was provided by the leader’s speech. Stating that Darling’s plan was a "starting point", Miliband indicated that fiscal credibility would be key plank of his offer to the British public, but that deficit reduction without an active plan for growth would not work .
Meanwhile on the fringe, the balance between work and family life was debated at a Social Market Foundation event looking at the need to support families with childcare costs to help them stay in work. Exploring the impact of cuts to public services on women’s employment prospects in particular, the meeting called on government and employers to embrace the role of flexible and affordable childcare, parental leave, childcare vouchers, flexible working, and support for carers in the workforce.
With elections to the shadow cabinet taking place next week, the future direction of Labour’s policy development will soon become clearer. In order for Labour to be a credible alternative government, not just an opposition party, Miliband needs a balanced team that can reach out to lost voters – many of whom may soon regret their support for Liberal Democrats at the election when the extent of the cuts and job losses become clear.
Miliband’s leadership offers a fresh start for Labour. Eyes now turn to Birmingham for the Conservative response.
Marc Woolfson is a director at Westminster Advisers
This article was first published on hrmagazine.co.uk