The Labour party conference promises to be a defining one for a number of reasons:
1. Labour has a new leader who, for the first time ever, was elected by active party members who attend conferences. David Cunliffe was a very popular choice and so will be well supported.
2. David has to give a speech that people are still talking about in January: not necessarily the content (though important) but the delivery. The man is charismatic and is a very good communicator and when he speaks with passion and conviction he is exceptional, so expect an exceptional speech that will set a new benchmark for a leader’s keynote address at major political conferences in a way David Cameron’s did in the UK.
3. There is a genuine feeling that Labour really can take the treasury benches in 2014. The level of energy and engagement from key participants will determine the mood of optimism at the conference and beyond. It is always been my experience that people draw energy from those around them – both negative and positive, and so I am expecting a very energized conference full of the belief that 2014 will be Labour’s time
4. There are a few controversial remits that will be debated on the conference floor. The PR and political management around whatever decision is reached by the party members must be handled with a high degree of competency and will be the first real test of Cunliffe’s new team. Any negative spin or half-stories must be closed down immediately so Labour’s solutions to the issues that really matter to good hard working Kiwi families are the default headlines.
5. The leadership contest has enabled and empowered members like never before. It will be very interesting to see what members do, and how they exercise, this new found power. Enabled people are engaged people, and engaged people work hard to win elections. Expect robust debate on the conference floor.
6. Discipline.! Labour will not win if there is the perception of division. No political party ever does. I expect a very high level of discipline and a 100% on-message response by every delegate. Anything else will be counter productive and will be over reported and draw oxygen from all the good stuff going on.
7. The mood of the caucus will be most interesting. Again, I am expecting that all will have taken the oath that they support the Labour leader 100% and willingly show this whenever possible at conference.
8. The performance of David Parker. I consider David to be one of the real thinkers and intellectuals of the party; and a man with a huge social conscience but an in-depth understanding of the macro-economic philosophy. Now as deputy leader he takes on added responsibility. He has the potential to be better than Michael Cullen and so his first major performance as deputy leader will be most interesting. I expect him to prove to a wider audience just how good he is.
This time in 3 days we will know how thinks have gone – and this conference will set the tone for the march into election 2014. I fully expect this to be the first step in a victory march that will end in the occupation of the beehive.