After thirteen years of Conservative government, change is in the air. Keir Starmer’s Labour Party are flying ahead in the polls, and the former Director of Public Prosecutions appears a shoo-in for the next Prime Minister.
However, up until now many have criticised Labour for offering little in terms of policy specifics or ethos, and simply riding the Tory’s unpopularity to their sky-high polling figures. Hence, the party conference in Liverpool last week was a golden opportunity for the party to set out its stall, nail down some policy specifics, and as Starmer put it, “answer the question, why Labour?”
Here’s six key moments/takeaways from the Conference.
In a fairly staggering breach of Conference security, a protestor calling for electoral reform and proportional representation, stormed the stage at the beginning of Starmer’s keynote speech, covering the Labour leader in glitter before being dragged away by security. Starmer appeared to take it in his stride, removing his jacket, rolling up his sleeves and saying, “If he thinks that bothers me, he doesn’t know me.”
6. David Lammy’s powerful speech
The most energetic address of the conference came from the shadow foreign secretary on day 2.
Obviously, he had to address the pair of elephants in the room, and he took a clear stance on both Ukraine and Israel. He pledged to aid Ukraine until they “win” and to support their accession to NATO thereafter. On the conflict in the Middle East, he totally condemned Hamas, but vowed not to give up on a two-state solution, stating that “There will not be peace until Israel is secure and Palestine is a sovereign state.”
With regards to Europe, he reiterated his stance that closer ties with the EU were a “priority” and that if you disagreed “you need to wake up.” Whilst he reiterated his point here, Lammy did explicitly rule out re-entering the customs union or the single market.
The speech was heavy on oratory devices and emotive gestures, and involved one of the most simplistically brutal pledges of the conference when he stated, “If we win you will no longer be embarrassed by your leaders.”
5. Rayner’s address to the Women’s Conference
Every year, the day before the main conference begins, Labour holds a Women’s Conference for female party members. Deputy leader Angela Rayner’s speech to this crowd was half anecdotal and half policy based – with the introduction of some important plans on women’s issues.
She talked about how Labour was “turning the tide of history”, pointing out that the party now had more female than male MPs, and how Rachel Reeves was set to be the first female Chancellor of the Exchequer.
She pledged to tackle sexual harassment at work, make misogyny a hate crime, toughen sentences for rapists and stalkers, and halve the level of violence against women and girls, promises that received a standing ovation from the crowd.
4. The new party of business?
For decades, the Conservatives have been considered the natural party of business, thanks largely to their inclination towards privatisation and low corporation tax. Labour used their party conference to try and push back on this perception, endeavouring to win over business leaders with their policy announcements and a focus on their “securonomics” (catchy).
Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves reiterated her promises not to introduce a wealth tax, and to hold a review of business tax. While popular with business leaders, these pledges are disliked by trade unions and the Labour left, who see them as regressive.
She also committed to Labour’s plan for an £8 billion ‘national wealth fund’ designed to “de-risk” private sector investment in renewable energy and new technologies, by co-investing public money alongside private stakes. The plan is based on the subsidisation in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.
At a forum with 200 businesspeople, Starmer told his audience (who paid nearly £2000 each to attend), that “If we do come into government, you will be coming into government with us.”
3. Speeding ahead with net zero
Keir Starmer and Ed Miliband (Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net Zero), used the Liverpool Conference to draw a clear dividing line between themselves and the Tories on green issues. “When Rishi Sunak says row back on our climate mission, I say speed ahead,” was the words of Starmer in reference to Sunak’s recent decision to water down Britain’s climate pledges.
In terms of policy specifics, Labour’s plans include quadrupling Britain’s offshore wind capacity by 2030, insulating 19 million homes and creating Great British Energy – a publicly owned clean energy company touted to make the UK energy independent and save “£93 billion for UK households.”
The Torie’s main reasoning for their environmental rowback was the costs green policies impose on families across the UK – Labour has countered this by focusing on the benefits of lower energy bills and promising to support those in fossil fuel industries moving onto other jobs.
2. “We are the builders”
One of the biggest issues facing the UK today is a chronic housing shortage – a crisis that artificially increases house prices and the difficulty of young people getting on the property ladder. In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives pledged to build 300,000 homes annually, but are currently 60-70,000 per year short of their target.
As one of Labour’s five ‘missions for Britain’, Starmer has promised to tackle the housing crisis by building 1.5 million homes in the first five years of Labour government. He sees red tape as the main obstacle to house building, and the party has vowed to undertake a ‘blitz of planning reform’ to deliver ‘the biggest boost to affordable housing in a generation’.
As part of the initiative to support first-time buyers, younger people will be given first chances at homes in new developments in their area, with the help of a government-backed mortgage guarantee scheme.
These announcements have largely been welcomed by industry leaders.
1. Starmer’s appeal to disaffected Tory voters
Sir Keir Starmer is not typically regarded as a charismatic man or a powerful public speaker. In fact, in a recent Savanta survey, where respondents were asked to describe the Labour leader in one word, the most common response was “boring.”
However, there was little of this blandness in one particularly poignant section of Starmer’s speech.
“If you are a Conservative voter who despairs of this, if you look in horror at the descent of your party into the murky waters of populism and conspiracy, with no argument for economic change; if you feel our children need a party that conserves, that fights for our union, our environment, the rule of law, family life, the careful bond between this generation and the next – then let me tell you, Britain already has one. And you can join it – it’s this Labour party.”
It was the most Prime Ministerial he has sounded yet.