Labour Party Conference Review
The Labour Party has come a long way since its huge defeat in 2019. As recently as last year’s Conference in Brighton, Keir Starmer and the Labour left were engaged in factional struggle, with Corbynite hecklers from the Conference floor marring his first major speech to the country since the pandemic. How things have changed.
This year, amidst the economic crisis enveloping the new Conservative Prime Minister and her Chancellor, Starmer had two key jobs; to prove to the British people that they are a government-in-waiting, and perhaps more importantly, up to the job of fixing and growing Britain’s ailing economy. He broadly succeeded at both. Unthinkable a year ago.
The atmosphere in Liverpool felt very different. The Labour Party is a remarkably united party, and once again has its confidence back as an election-winning force. Starmer is fully in control, and has moved the party on from the creature comforts it is so used to, that is talking to itself about issues it cares about, too often neglecting to align with voters’ priorities.
Starmer’s voter-facing speech was well-received by the party and the business community, the latter visibly present and engaged in Liverpool. Eye-catching policies such as the establishment of GB Energy, a new sovereign wealth fund, and a long-term strategic industrial strategy bringing together government, business and unions, are all designed to signal the party’s readiness for Number 10.
The Shadow Chancellor and the Shadow Business Secretary have established a positive partnership narrative for business, whilst Starmer has become clearer of his guiding strategy for government – with a bold “red-green” plan for the economy; universal access to home ownership central to its mission for social mobility; addressing the immediate challenges presented by the cost of living crisis; and a drive to “make Brexit work”. Fiscal discipline will sit at the heart of everything a Labour-led Treasury does, painting it as the fiscally responsible of the two parties.
For the first time since 2005, MPs and party members will be quietly confident of winning the next General Election. There is now clear “red” water between Labour and the Conservatives. Yet, the party will be taking nothing for granted. It has been out of power for a long time. Starmer is at war with electoral complacency as much as he is at war with the Conservative Party.
The Labour Leader also knows that the challenges in government will be vast, and as Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng are currently experiencing, the realities imposed by events make the job of governing much harder than the process of laying out slick plans in Opposition. Indeed, winning power may be the easy bit for Starmer.
As attention turns to Tory Conference in Birmingham next week, Labour will now apply a laser-like focus on the government’s mishandling of the economy. Starmer has already capitalised on the IMF’s warnings about last week’s fiscal statement, and Labour will remain relentless in prosecuting its case.
As this year’s Labour Conference packs up, however, optimism will be the abiding mood as MPs and delegates head home.
This Labour Party Conference Review is produced by Luke Downham, senior account manager and head of the Labour Party Unit
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November 20, 2023
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