As I may have mentioned (once or twice), I’m a Sunderland fan. During my nearly twenty years of supporting them they have achieved the record lowest points total for a Premier League club.
Watching your football team lose every week takes its toll on even the most upbeat fan. Eventually many otherwise loyal supporters snap. Players are booed off at half time. At full time. After a misplaced shot, or a wayward pass.
Sunderland – eventually – got better. But for some fans the booing Rubicon had been crossed. Now being behind at half time, or drawing even, was a boo-able offence. Despite times changing, and the relationship between the club and it’s supporters improving, some people had just lost faith.
It meant that at times, the home games could be the hardest.
I’m using this torturous metaphor because I’m on my way to hear Ed Miliband address Unite’s conference in Brighton. On paper this is a home fixture, but like at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, there will be those there who once gave Labour their wholehearted support, but have now lost faith.
Some might even boo. It wouldn’t surprise me.
The knee-jerk reaction from the party would be to argue that those who oppose Miliband aren’t Labour supporters. For some that may be true – there are always a number of union activists who are part of the rag tag bunch of parties on the ultra-left (recognisable by their obsession with newsprint and acronym based party names).
They never liked Labour anyway.
But a more substantial proportion of trade union activists and members are part of the great mass of people who became disillusioned with Labour – a segment of the 5 million lost voters as it were. They may grumble and gripe about Labour’s direction. About Labour in power. They might even, like the frustrated Sunderland fans, continue to boo even when – as with Ed Miliband – performances improve.
What they are looking for – and I admit I’m looking for it too – is something that will restore faith in Labour, and what we’re here to do. Too often we are told that New Labour did little – nonsense of course, the minimum wage, maternity pay, paternity leave, equal rights, slashing child poverty. You know the list. But New Labour ran out of steam inspirationally before it hit the buffers electorally.
What those disillusioned delegates down in Brighton want to hear today is a reason to believe again. They want to believe that Labour can win, and by doing so change Britain. There will no doubt be questions about Labour’s direction, public sector pay, and support for strike action. But most of all they want their faith restored. The sense of expectation at best and disappointment at worst will be overwhelming.
I know the sensation well. I’m a Sunderland fan. And that’s why I never forget that sometimes the home fixtures are the hardest…
Update: Ed Miliband’s speech was well received in the end. Perhaps because he restored a little faith. We shall see…