With Starmer in charge the Party is united, but will Labour’s Conference high carry them to the next election?Carver Oakley, Client Executive
Though the news headlines may have rightly been dominated by the horrific attacks in Israel, this year’s Labour Party Conference, in no small part due to Starmer’s response to the conflict, was a definitive demonstration of his confidence as leader and the Party unity he commands.
In the most obvious showcase of his self-assuredness, Starmer quipped after the glitter bomb moment, “Protest not power; that’s why we changed our party”. He used this Conference to demonstrate that his style of leadership and dogged focus on moving the party into an electable position would not relent. The leadership’s response to the events in Israel showed this. Starmer was in lockstep with Biden and Sunak with a diplomatic and statesman-like response to the tragedy. Many may rightly consider this the bare minimum expected of an aspiring Prime Minister, but given the record of the previous leader, it certainly shows how far the Labour Party has come.
If Blair had his Clause IV victory in 1995, this Conference too can be seen as the culmination of Starmer’s triumph against the left of his Party. The reassurance which the Starmer leadership has brought was on full display in Liverpool, lapped up by businesses who flocked to the Albert Dock. The security which Starmer feels in his role has seeped into all parts of Labour’s campaign to be the next government. The commercial message was one of certainty, Starmer and Reeves alike stressed that under Labour business would be up and political risk down.
Business leaders did not need to take just the Shadow Cabinet’s word for it. Endorsements from Mark Carney cemented Labours ability to capture the economic competence argument. Achieving the intervention from the former head of the Bank of England served as a glorious precursor to a widely praised speech by Rachel Reeves, who only seems to increasingly endear herself to the corporate lobby. Again, allowing the competencies of his Cabinet to shine demonstrates the comfort which Starmer seems to feel in his role. In fact, the popularity of some of the Shadow Cabinet saw fringe events with snaking queues of people waiting for over 45 minutes. Wes Streeting was one such Cabinet member drawing crowds greater than those which Truss drew to her ‘Growth Rally’. Much a sign of the times, the popularity of Wes can only be seen as a good thing for Labour, whilst Truss’ gravitational weight serves to derail the already fractious Conservative Party.
There was full unity behind Starmer this year by those in attendance, something which certainly helped the rapturous applause which he received when announcing one of the very few policies in his keynote speech. Starmer committed Labour to the construction of 1.5 million new homes over the course of the next Parliament, equating to about five new Milton-Keynes sized towns. Sticking to his North London roots, Starmer promised that these new towns would not be constructed of dreary rows of semi-detached suburbia, pledging instead settlements of “Georgian style town houses”.
Construction of these new homes, along with commitments to grander infrastructure such as laboratories, roads, windfarms, and grid connections will see Labour “bulldoze” through current planning restrictions, taking power away from local “blockers” and providing the green light to “builders”. Whilst this sweeping planning reform will certainly be music to the ears of business and aspirational renters alike, it does stand in contrast to previous Labour commitments to local empowerment and devolution. How Labour squares their plans to build regardless of local wishes, whilst also adhering to Gordon Brown’s ‘Commission on the UK’s future’ and the ‘Take Back Control’ Bill, both of which will push power down away from the centre, will be an interesting sight.
Starmer seemed to continue to stem the criticism that he does not propose enough of a plan for Britain by driving a wedge between him and Sunak on the environment. Starmer stuck his flag in the ground on commitments to invest in green industry and climate targets, crying: “When Rishi Sunak says row back on our climate mission, I say speed ahead, speed ahead with investment, speed ahead with half a million jobs!”
Despite these commitments and overall jubilant mood, the Labour Party Conference was certainly policy light compared to Sunak’s myriad of announcements in Manchester. After the dust settles on this year’s Conference season it is hard to ignore that the ‘Ming vase’ strategy, an approach which advocates caution whilst moving carefully ahead, still seems to be Labour’s guiding star.