British opposition readies election challenge to Conservatives

Conservative bashing, stirring words about social equality and warnings over populism: Britain`s main opposition party this week prepped its ranks for next year`s general election.

Manchester: Conservative bashing, stirring words about social equality and warnings over populism: Britain`s main opposition party this week prepped its ranks for next year`s general election.

"Win 2015" flags were on display all around at the party conference in Manchester, northwest England, as hundreds of supporters milled around, along with T-shirts reading "Never Kissed A Tory". (Tory is another name for the Conservatives.)

But as activists rallied ahead of a tight election in May, some urged the opposition Labour party to reconnect with its core working class support, many of whom feel left behind by today`s version of the party.

As the centrist "New Labour" under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the party governed Britain between 1997 and 2010.

While current leader Ed Miliband has moved further left, some traditional voters still feel excluded by a leadership largely educated at elite universities and schooled in politics at Westminster.

"I think the Labour party has moved to the centre. And a lot of what I would call grassroots Labour party supporters have said `Labour no longer represents our aspirations`", said party historian Robin Todd.

"Labour must connect with working, ordinary people," he said, correcting himself to say: "Re-connect with working, ordinary people."

Others, though, believe that Labour`s plans to help lower and middle income families will be enough to take them back to power in 2015.

"It`s been very uplifting," said Liz Blount, a Labour member from the town of Witney in Oxfordshire, who added that she saw the conference as a "warm-up" for a hotly contested election.

"We are totally ready," she said, as party leaders sketched out plans for a return to government.

In the conference hall, finance spokesman Ed Balls had scathing words for Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and Finance Minister George Osborne "going round the country saying they`ve fixed the economy".

"How out of touch can you get?" he said.Josh, a 21-year-old Labour party member, said he believed victory was in the bag even though Miliband`s personal rating in opinion polls lags behind Cameron`s.

"I feel good, I`m excited," he said.

"The convention is about Labour`s message and Labour`s vision and I think we do well. The mood is good.

"Bills are too high, people can not afford to take care of the children while they work.

They want change," he said.

In a bid to improve its chances, Labour organised a series of practical workshops to train new candidates, including in the use of social media or speech writing.

"I learnt a lot of great ideas about different ways of campaigning and how to campaign effectively and also about how you can engage volunteers and get them to come forward," said Kate Haigh, a town councillor from Gloucester in southwest England.

It may not only be the centre-right Conservatives that Labour campaigners have to worry about come next year.

At another seminar, activists discussed the growing popularity of the populist and anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP), which came first in European Parliament elections in May.

While UKIP is usually seen as posing the biggest threat to the Conservatives, analysts suggest that its appeal to Labour voters should not be under-estimated.

"Some ordinary workers... feel they have got no future and so they are susceptible to UKIP`s appeal," said Peter Hain, a lawmaker and former senior minister under Blair and Brown.

"I don`t think we`ve taken UKIP seriously enough in the Labour party," he added.

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