All summer, Labour has been faced with a triple challenge from the determination of the National Union of Mineworkers to commit a future Labour government to reinstatement of sacked miners, a review of gaoled miners' cases and for reimbursement of funds. The demand placed Labour's leadership, policies and philosophy under the spotlight. By taking his uncompromising stand, Mr Kinnock has probably achieved the best set of results that could be obtained in the circumstances. He has undoubtedly asserted his authority and leadership. Though he lost yesterday's vote, he has contained (but perhaps not for all time) the damage which the miners could do to Labour's policy commitment. And he has confronted the party with the need to reapply itself to articulating democratic and realisable Labour values. If he had acted more decisively earlier he might have done even better. But it is a considerable achievement nonetheless and Mr Kinnock has done well this week.
The debate on the NUM resolution, though, can hardly be seen as an undivided triumph for the Labour party. Mr Kinnock's speech, lower key than Tuesday's offering, hit a whole row of nails on the head. Indeed he went further in his criticisms of NUM tactics than he has ever done before. But when the votes were counted it was obvious once again that all too many of the union delegations and constituency parties prefer to go on supporting the NUM's excessive demands rather than reconsider whether they are achievable, justifiable or wise. On several occasions it was clear from the response of the conference that Labour is still reluctant, at union and constituency activist levels, to face stubborn realities. When speakers dared to criticise the lack of credibility of some trade union leaderships, especially those which place themselves above the law, or to point to the difficulty of persuading voters in vast areas of England that the NUM's strike tactics were a worthy cause, they were met with massive indifference and sometimes outright hostility. The substance of the NUM resolution may not now be so important a headache for Mr Kinnock. But the debate illustrated many unresolved problems which Labour must confront now if it can have a serious hope of regaining political power.
In the last two days Mr Kinnock has done everything that could have been asked of him to begin the process. But he cannot just wave a wand and transform his party. Labour isn't like that: a fact that came through forcefully in the local government debate yesterday. Mr David Blunkett, emboldened by his growing authority as the victor in this week's executive committee elections, won a startling personal success when he persuaded Liverpool's Militants to withdraw their own motion in return for promises that the party nationally would help get the city's Labour group off its budgetary hook. That he was able to do so is an important reminder, especially after Mr Kinnock's lashing of Liverpool on Tuesday, that the conference is not his alone to command. Mr Blunkett's move is not the only piece of evidence this week that Labour's centre-left is a force in its own right and that it can hold the line against Mr Kinnock's more uncompromising approach. This is not to commend them for their tactics. The so-called re-aligned left epitomised by Mr Blunkett has yet to prove that it isn't just a have-your-cake-and-eat-it left. But it is a key section of the party if Mr Kinnock is to come back to next year's conference freed from the pressure to act in the way he has done this week. Either way, whether Labour now emerges from Bournemouth as a party with a tough leader unafraid to take scalps or as a party consumed with a deep lust unity, the real task is still to convince the sceptical millions back home. This is why today's economic and defence debates are in many ways the most important in Bournemouth this week. The easy assumption, in the hothouse of a conference hall, is that because a motion is passed (or not passed) millions of floating votes must leap to attention. Don't believe it.