Labour pains to be effective opposition

Ed Miliband Image copyright PA
Image caption Ed Miliband will face his party at the annual conference in Brighton

For three years Labour activists in Yorkshire have been telling me the 'coalition's cuts' will show the electorate exactly what sort of government it voted in.

Unfortunately for Ed Miliband the same issue appears to be revealing just as much about the state of the opposition.

As Labour heads to Brighton for its annual conference this week, party managers are worried the simmering anger seen at the TUC congress earlier this month could be about to come to the boil.

Over the summer I have interviewed quite a few trade union shop stewards and regional organisers.

Left wing worries

All of them are committed Labour Party activists but I keep hearing the same frustrations voiced over what they see as months of missed opportunities to damage the government by having radical alternative proposals to protect the less well-off.

One veteran trade unionist told me the Labour Party is so worried about appearing to be too left wing that even the Archbishop of York seemed more effective by launching his own high-profile campaign for a minimum 'living wage'.

Labour MPs and party managers claim the opposition to government economic and social policy has been sustained and successful.

They argue it is both unwise and unfair to expect any detailed policy announcements with 20 months to go before the next general election.

Block votes

However, it has not gone unnoticed that, as trade union leaders crank up their concerns, Ed Miliband is trying to ditch much of their power to influence party policy by wielding huge block votes.

Senior party figures put a much more positive spin on a proposal which is likely to dominate events in Brighton - even though a rare special conference has been arranged to thrash out the issue next spring.

Alan Johnson, leader of the Communication Workers Union before being elected as a Hull MP, says it is undemocratic to see conference policy decisions shaped by block votes based on 'affiliated' trade union members.

With the months ticking away to the 2015 general election, the Conservatives in Yorkshire I have asked about these Labour pains have said little - but smiled a lot.