As the Labour Party went in to the General Election in May it is unlikely that anyone amongst the party ranks could have predicted what the next six months would have in store. A crushing election defeat; an unexpected majority for the Conservative Party; an SNP triumph in Scotland which all but wiped out Labour north of the border; and a leadership election which would see Jeremy Corbyn take up the position of Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. After such a turbulent period it was difficult to gauge the mood amongst delegates as they descended on Brighton for Labour Party Conference.
Undoubtedly there was a sense of euphoria in the main conference centre as new members who flocked to the party during Corbynmania celebrated their victory, and many longer standing members on the left revelled in 'having their party back'. But a clear split was evident at the many fringe events at the conference bars, as the 'Blairites' and former Cabinet members recovered from the shock of Corbyn's success and discussed what his victory meant for Labour's electoral prospects over the coming months and years. The opposition to the Labour leader was muted, so soon after his comprehensive win, but you would expect dissent within the party to become increasingly vocal on the long road to 2020.
The conference was the first real opportunity for Corbyn and his new team of Shadow Ministers to set out policy positions across a range of areas, and with so much media speculation and talk of a 'radical' Corbyn agenda the business community arrived in Brighton eager for substance.
Energy was an area which Corbyn had paid a great deal of attention to during his leadership election, with a number of proposals, including the nationalisation of the Big Six and the energy networks at a cost to the taxpayer estimated at an eye watering £180 billion. New Shadow Energy Secretary Lisa Nandy ruled out such a move in her speech to conference, focussing instead on climate change and the importance of the Paris summit later in the year. She echoed Al Gore's criticism of recent Government renewable policy, and called on the UK to take a lead on the world stage in combating the threat of climate change. She of course stressed the need to deliver decarbonisation in a cost effective way which protected vulnerable customers from rising energy bills, and the potential for community energy to achieve this balance played an important part of her first real contribution to the energy debate. The new Labour energy team does contain a great deal of industry experience in Alan Whitehead MP, who has been promoted to Shadow Energy Minister and attended an impressive number of fringe events at conference to begin engaging with the business community in his new role. His willingness to engage is particularly encouraging from ENA's perspective, as he has assumed responsibility for all things network related and has agreed to give a keynote speech at the LCNI Conference in November.
A wide ranging Leaders' speech from Jeremy Corbyn gave delegates and the media plenty to digest as they departed from Brighton, and a Shadow Cabinet row over Trident on the final day of conference pointed to a bumpy road ahead. But only time will tell what the future holds for Labour, and if the last six months has taught us anything it is to expect the unexpected.