MANCHESTER is famous for its rain and grey skies, but while the sun has been shining brightly, a pall of gloom has lodged over the Labour Party conference taking place here.
It is hard to believe that in nine months’ time Labour could have the keys to Downing Street and be ready to run the country. The conference in Manchester seems sparsely attended, flat, and generally in need of a good dose of Prozac.
Normally the conference before an election is buzzing with life and ideas, but Labour is a battered and bruised machine, largely because of the long campaign to keep Scotland in the UK.
And exhaustion has reached beyond the Scottish members to other parts of the Labour Party, partly because so many of them were bussed north in the dying days to save the Union. They won, but victory can never have been so bitter because so many of the battles in their own heartlands of Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire were lost to the SNP and the Yes vote. The SNP beat them in Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont’s Pollok constituency and shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran’s Glasgow East constituency and many more.
Now, instead of thinking about victory, Labour is thinking about survival. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey described the referendum as “a near-death experience” for Labour.
Others think the life support machine may yet be turned off, with Glasgow-based, centre-left politician Nicola Sturgeon as the new leader of the SNP.
One MP told me: “We are in a battle for our life. The SNP will try to kill us off once and for all and we don’t have the people to fight it.”
Another MP said: “We may hold on to our [Westminster] seats next year but 2016 [Holyrood election] could be even worse than 2011.”
And to make matters worse Tory Prime Minister David Cameron has succeeded in making Labour look anti-English. His “Evel call”, as it is dubbed – English Votes for English Laws – has overshadowed everything Labour has tried to talk about at this conference, preventing it from getting its own message out to voters across the UK.
Labour also face a threat from Ukip and the Tories over the European Union. The failure to agree to an EU referendum in the next parliament is angering many MPs and ordinary members behind the scenes, and there is a sense it is being outflanked wherever it turns.
Today Ed Miliband will set out a ten-year vision for his government. His last speech in Manchester calling for One Nation politics electrified the country. He needs to do that again to get his party back on track to victory.