Having just emerged from a Friday the 13th marked by the downgrading of France, Austria and seven other EU countries by Standard & Poor’s, the event was certainly topical.
The keynote address was given by Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls. Reiterating comments previously made to the Guardian, Mr Balls noted that, because he did not know what type of economic situation Labour would inherit from the current government, he could not guarantee the reversal of the cuts imposed by the Government. Referencing Keynes and even the IMF, he pointed to the need for growth and, to prevent future problems, reform. Mr Balls also highlighted, what he described as the harmful nature of the measures imposed by the current government, the disproportionate impact felt by women and families and the ‘reckless’ cuts made to the NHS. He contrasted these with reference to Ed Miliband’s “responsible capitalism”.
In good form, the day saw delegates question to what extent Labour represented an alternative. As Caroline Lucas MP, Leader of the Green Party, articulated, how can the public reconcile Labour’s attacks on the Government’s austerity measures while refusing to commit to reversing them? One response came from Shadow Business Minister Chuka Umunna, who warned against falling into the Conservative trap of characterising the situation as “all or nothing”. Indeed, there is more than one way to cut spending, and therein lies the opportunity to meaningfully distinguish one party from another.
Although attendees were grappling with the repercussions of the gloomy economic outlook, life in opposition and the challenge of restoring the image of a party which is currently seen in some quarters as being fiscally irresponsible, the silver lining was seeing so many individuals using their weekends to contribute to a dialogue on change – as the official twitter hashtag noted – #fab12.