There is no old adage in politics that says elections are won and lost by Shadow Secretaries of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and that is just as well.
The Labour Conference crowd were made to wait for the big set-piece speech from the party’s “rising star” Rebecca Long-Bailey. Or more accurately, they chose to make themselves wait. She should have been on at half past 10, but the overrunning of votes on “local party constitutional amendments” which, for reasons not fully known, had a tendency to descend like a YouTube comments section into the Israel-Palestine question, meant the star did not rise til noon.
But any doubts over whether it would be worth the 90 minute wait were quickly allayed when Labour’s “rising star” began with tales of her childhood. “When I was little, my dad used to tell me stories of offloading oil tankers in Salford,” she said. Alas, none of these stories were shared in more detail.
Like her boss John McDonnell the day before, Long-Bailey warned of how “we stand on the precipice of the fourth industrial revolution”. Of how the “pace of change will be faster than ever before”. And she was right. Barely three minutes had passed and suddenly “the fourth industrial revolution is here”.
Out in the conference hall, there was no immediate indication that a precipice had just been slipped off. Indeed, several people may have slept right through it.
If the Shadow Business Secretary is one of Labour’s “rising stars” as, John McDonnell called her on Monday, it is principally because the party’s already risen stars have all blown themselves up supernova-like at various points in the last two years, leaving the firmament black enough to make out the likes of Long-Bailey, who burns with all the brightness of a standby light on a radio alarm clock.
Just like McDonnell had done, Long-Bailey pointed out that change is coming and fast, in robotics and artificial intelligence. “Robots are already capable of cognitive tasks,” she informed the room, which does make one wonder why they’ve not already taken the job of Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Angela Rayner was next. She boomed out various promises about building more schools, more investment in this, that and the other and “making sure teachers are properly paid”, a promise which pleased no one more than the smattering of teachers in the crowd who’d bunked off work to be there.
It’s hard to avoid the sensation that they’re just acting out the various parts, this new generation whose time seems to have come too soon. A Shadow Business Secretary, reading out the things she thinks a Shadow Business Secretary should say. A Shadow Education Secretary, well armed with truisms about the importance of a good education, but who might just easily be standing there talking about Trident or hospitals or interest rates instead.
Labour has its momentum. That much is clear for anyone to see at this conference. But one or two kids have been skipped too far ahead. Whenever results day finally comes, there might be a nasty surprise in store.