Dispatch from Labour Conference: A tale of two Eds

Yesterday I saw Ed Balls deliver a well crafted speech that was on the whole well received (a few brief boos on retirement age rising), being high in content albeit delivered in a fairly low-key manner by his standards.

Labour Party Conference: Dispatch from day three
Labour Party Conference: Dispatch from day three

The logic for this approach? "We have to show the country what we are, that we are a Government in waiting,"  a member of Ed Balls' team told me.

Balls had been up practising until 1am but looked fresh enough and was still in good shape much later in the night when joking about his diet, which was inspired when The Telegraph labelled him and Eric Pickles among Parliament's most rotund MPs.

He fed some red meat to delegates on minimum wage, derided George Osborne and Michael Gove, and talked up taxing millionaires (Labour's ranks of business supporters don't mind the 50 per cent tax rate and clapped along willingly in their guest seats at the back of the hall).  

With Balls judged to have performed well, the conference fringes and main hall buzzed with early speculation abut what will be in the Labour leader's speech - thought by many still to contain one big surprise.  The media were clamouring all day to be told what is the rabbit in the hat. 

Big rumours were washing over delegates of what Ed Miliband might surprise Conference and the country with.  Indeed a tax on the profits of cigarette companies was mentioned to me by two people long before it was trailed in the overnight papers - a 2015 general version of the Windfall Tax - electorally acceptable and a moral no-brainer. 

Do it Labour. But insiders were not giving anything away beyond those titbits fed to the overnight papers - mansion tax, six-point economic plan, doubling the number of homebuyers, NHS funding and reform. 

Labour's business reception on Tuesday night thronged with the corporate world - numbers of commercial visitors are sky high compared to the ghost town-like atmosphere I recall of Conference 2010. 

Speeches by Miliband, Balls and Chukka Umunna went down well at the glitzy Bloomberg sponsored bash fronted by its Clooney-esque silky smooth front man Constantin Cotzias.  

"Labour will work with businesses, Labour needs business, Labour will listen." Miliband, Umunna and Balls all gave the same message delivered in their own style. Umunna is quite the political celebrity these days and was mobbed afterwards as usual. 

As midnight passed, the Midland Hotel morphed into a sweaty heaving mass of bodies as the traditional late night party conference drinks got into full swing. 

These sessions easily last until 4am for many. Some of PLMR's American guests could not believe the easy access to shadow cabinet and MPs - so different from the States, they told me. 

The trade unions were out in force - and top conversational topics included tackling the Conservative trap on English devolution, how will Miliband today perform presentationally, and immigration.

I left the PLMR team hard at it just after midnight, having learned many a hard lesson in the previous 20 Labour conferences I have attended. 

Today is again the biggest day in Miliband's political life.  What will be the surprise? Will he look Prime Ministerial?  There will be a much more intense atmosphere in the hall and guaranteed ovations but, as ever, it is what people think of its appeal on television that will be so crucial - which we as PRWeek readers know all too well.

Kevin Craig is managing director of Political Lobbying and Media Relations (PLMR). He is a former Labour parliamentary Labour candidate and has served ten years a Lambeth councillor in Vauxhall CLP, re-elected in 2014

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