The Labour Party faithful headed to Liverpool over the weekend, in what was being billed as Keir Starmer’s most important conference and perhaps last in his post as Leader of the Opposition, ahead of the next fiercely contested General Election.
Horrific events in the Middle East cast a long shadow over the conference from beginning to end, with both the Tory Party and Labour rightly dedicating a significant portion of both broadcast rounds and speeches to the events unfolding.
While the conference began on the Sunday, the majority of media and political attention at the beginning of Labour’s time in Liverpool was focused on Monday’s speech from Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves. In an unorthodox move from the Prime Minister, Sunak had scheduled an interview on Radio 2 to coincide with her address and perhaps a bid to knock any announcements of the front page.
Despite this, Reeves, a former Bank of England and British Embassy economist, delivered a confident speech telling Labour Party members that when they next meet, she fully intends to address them “as Britain’s first female Chancellor of the Exchequer.”
Describing her proposals as an “Iron-Clad” economic package, Reeves was clear in her ambition to restore the public’s perception of the Labour Party’s ability to govern and importantly navigate the economy through choppy waters.
Taking aim squarely at the Government, the Shadow Chancellor pledged she would “wage a war” against fraud and inefficiency by cutting the use of Government spending on consultants, while creating a COVID corruption commissioner in order to recoup taxpayers’ money wasted during the pandemic. Alongside this, Reeves also announced a plan to more strictly police the use of private jets by Ministers.
However, Reeves speech focused less on individual fiscal pledges and more on reassuring voters that Labour could be trusted with the economy and provide hope to a nation during a cost-of-living crisis. Whether this has done enough remains to be seen. However, a shock endorsement from former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney in a video following the speech will go someway to achieving this.
Throughout conference, a selection of Shadow Cabinet Members outlined the party’s policy proposals for Government.
Following the Government’s announcement that it would row back on Net Zero pledges, Labour unveiled policies focused on the opposite with a new “auto strategy” to prioritise the electric vehicle rollout announced. Alongside this, a pledge to “rewire Britain” would see the removal of barriers to upgrade Britain’s clean energy infrastructure and an Energy Independence Act will seek to break Britain’s dependency on fossil fuels.
Other announcements came in the form of a crackdown on workplace sexual harassment and violence against women, and a scheme worth up to £100m to prevent youth crime. For schools and teachers, Bridget Phillipson pledged to turbocharge young people and teachers’ maths skills while reform of the apprenticeship levy would fund specialist training colleges focused on local industries.
With the NHS remaining one of the most important issues to voters, Shadow Health Secretary unveiled a “Fit For The Future Fund” to upgrade outdated NHS diagnostic equipment and a separate fund to offer 700,000 more urgent dental appointments.
On Tuesday, the stage was set for Keir Starmer to outline his vision for the country. Speaking to a packed conference hall, his pitch to the nation was unceremoniously interrupted before it had even begun when a protester covered the Labour leader in glitter, in what was a serious security breach.
Nonetheless, Starmer took the commotion in his stride but did not underestimate the scale of the economic task that faced his party. Referencing Blair and Wilson’s respective economic missions at the start of their premierships, Starmer outlined that the challenges facing his party were as tough, if not tougher.
The Labour leader made a direct appeal in his speech to Tory voters, claiming that his party would be pro-union and pro-businesses while defending family life and keeping taxes down. However, his key focus was on “Getting Britain Building Again”, which was repeated throughout his time on stage and would practically see a housebuilding programme and a creation of new developments of town that would see 1.5 million homes built.
Labour’s conference in Liverpool and Keir Starmer’s speech to delegates were clearly underpinned by the party’s belief that they are ready for Government, with Jonathan Ashworth’s challenge to the Prime Minister to call an early election on the final day evidence of that. Fighting on issues such as the economy and crime have not come as naturally to the opposition in recent years as they may have hoped, however, the party continued to hit notes on public services that are more familiar with the voting public.
As Conference season draws to the end, and the parties have set out their pitch to the nation, both notably claiming to be the change the country needs, one thing remains certain. The next General Election will be compelling and fiercely contested in equal measure.
Click here to read our review of the recent Conservative Party Conference.