Nerves as Labour's faithful gather for conference

It's not easy to sum up a party conference as its delegates arrive. But in Liverpool, you can sense a degree of nervousness.

Labour activists I've spoken to believe the coalition's cuts agenda, rising unemployment and the sluggish economy offer the party a real chance to put forward its alternative.

There was a hint of that with Ed Miliband's eye-catching announcement to cut university student tuition fees by a third.

He also says it's up to Labour to be the voice of those families "whose living standards are being squeezed ever tighter".

Image caption Liz Kendall: Labour must have a "credible plan" on economy

Labour is not unlike a football club that's enjoyed a golden spell winning every trophy going - and is now stuck in the Championship, hoping to return to the glory days again.

In political terms, Labour has to ask itself whether enough voters are prepared to listen again to what the party's got to say.

'Families are terrified'

The Leicester West MP Liz Kendall believes the party must send out a message of hope this week.

"But we must also show we have a credible plan on the economy and that we have a fair way to deal with the deficit," she told me.

"People can see the coalition's policies aren't going right: the bankers and the energy companies seem to be getting away with it. That can't be fair.

"So many families are terrified that with childcare costs on the rise and fuel bills going up by 20%, how are they going to cope?

"We have to offer them hope for the future."

Labour's also talking up the need to connect with communities. Its activists in Derby have been praised by the leadership for their campaigning to save the city's train makers, Bombardier.

So is an effective grass roots presence a recognition that Labour in power increasingly lost touch?

East Midlands MEP Glenis Willmott told me that people expect Labour to be on their side - on issues that affect them locally and globally.

"People look at the deepening financial crisis in Greece, then the bails out in Ireland and Portugal. Little wonder they are worried," she told me.

"What is clear is that the EU must change.

"But we mustn't turn our backs on the EU, because globally produced problems can actually only be solved globally."

Both inside the conference hall and on the fringes this week, Liz Kendall and Glenis Willmott will help shape Labour's changing message to the country.

Their hope is that any initial conference jitters over the party's standing will be transformed into a confident message that voters will want to hear.

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