I love three things in this world; my family, my party and my city – the city of Liverpool. So it was an honour to have all three together this week.
The pride I felt as I walked through the city towards the Albert Dock and saw the streets awash with Labour flags and posters was only surpassed by the comments I have received from colleagues and visitors to the city since last Saturday.
I told the magazine Total Politics that I wanted Labour’s Liverpool Conference to change people’s perspectives on our great city. Mission accomplished.
From my Westminster staff to visitors to conference from around the country, everyone I spoke to was blown away with the beauty of the Albert dock, the transformation in our city’s skyline and the warm and friendly welcome that scousers extended to each and every person in the bars and restaurants, cabs and buses, shops and train stations.
Liverpool did itself proud this week.
And despite the fact that I know the Labour party will go back to London next week and continue the fight against the Tory media and government rhetoric that will attempt to portray Labour as a divided party, unfit for government, anyone who was in Liverpool will know, that we have made tremendous progress.
The comparisons have been made continuously in the press with Ed Miliband’s first year as Leader of the Opposition and David Cameron’s first year. It is a flawed analysis. When Cameron became Tory leader, he did so at a time when his party had spent almost a decade on the opposition benches. They had been battered in three successive elections – despite Labour’s popularity falling after the Iraq war - and they were a party that knew they could ill afford to elect another right wing Tory hack to lead them into the next election.
Lets remember a few things here and throw a splash of realism into the media equation. Most of the senior people in Ed’s cabinet have only ever known life in government. Most were elected in 1997 or 2001. Opposition is a new challenge for even the most senior of Cabinet officials and I include the likes of Andy Burnham, Hillary Benn and Douglas Alexander in that mix. Yet if we look at what Ed has achieved in his first year as Leader of the Opposition, it is frankly remarkable.
Today Labour has 800 more Councillors then we did a year ago. We have seen four by-elections inside this year with four emphatic Labour victories including a victory in Scotland. And further to that, Labour have recruited 65,000 more members to the party – something no opposition leader has ever been able to do in year 1, in living memory.
Ed deserves a little more respect then the press gave him this week but to be honest, if we learnt one thing from the Leaders TV debates in the run up to the 2010 Election, then it is this; the British public will fundamentally make up their own minds. Remember when we told prior to the debates that Cameron was slick and swarve and Brown was a media mess. What happened? Cameron couldn’t answer a question that went off of script and people suddenly looked at Brown and said, “hang on, he knows what he is talking about and isn’t as bad as I thought.” The media were wrong with their analysis of Cameron then and they are wrong with their analysis of Ed Miliband now.
So I think Conference in Liverpool will be seen as a turning point in Labour’s history. A moment that we look back on and think “that was the moment we got to grips with being an effective opposition.” If that turns out to be the case, then job done.
In the eyes of the Labour public this week, Liverpool showed that we are a city that is about far more than football and the Beatles (despite the above picture!). We proved that we are a world-class city capable of world-class things. A true international destination of choice. A place that visitors to conference will return to again. And for that, I am truly proud.