'People, Places and Public Services': an account of my time at the Labour Party Conference
This year’s conference had a different feel from the last one I attended in 2019 in Brighton, under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Attendees tended to be professionals, representing a wide variety of organisations, such as trade unions, businesses and charities, likely due to organisations wishing to engage with the new leadership and get an understanding of what Labour hopes to achieve during this parliament and in government. The newspaper coverage of factional strife is accurate, but despite this underlying tension, the atmosphere felt relatively upbeat and many attendees seemed content with the way Labour were heading under the new leadership.
The overall messaging from Labour MPs has changed under the current leadership and the watch-word this year is clearly devolution and empowering local communities. Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Jim McMahon (Shadow Transport Secretary) discussed these themes at length, and it is clear Labour’s response to the Government’s focus on ‘Levelling-up’ will be an ambitious plan to delivering greater devolution and local control to people’s lives and communities.
The Higher Education Commission are currently conducting an inquiry into how university research and development can contribute to levelling up, and will be releasing their report in the coming months. I was therefore particularly interested to hear Yvette Cooper stressing the importance of universities to inclusive growth.
Labour hopes to use the Mayoralties they have secured to act as a showcase for their policies and their belief that further devolution will work well for the various regions of the UK. The Metro Mayors in the north in particular were viewed as a way of winning back the lost ‘Red Wall’ seats post-Brexit. As such, the focus will be on the successes of Andy Burnham, Tracy Brabin, Dan Jarvis, Steve Rotheram and Jamie Driscoll. Andy Burnham stated he was open to working with the Government on levelling-up and will be presenting a ‘Levelling-up Deal’ for Greater Manchester to the Prime Minister and Michael Gove at next week’s Conservative Party conference.
Other major areas of focus were climate change and the Green New Deal, which Labour hopes will embellish their green credentials and put pressure on the Government to be more ambitious and deliver on their existing promises. Labour are also concentrating on public services: Jim McMahon MP summed up Labour’s new approach as ‘People, Places and Public Services’ – which seems to capture the essence of Keir Starmer and Rachael Reeves’ recent policy announcements.
Overall it appears the Conference has been successful for Keir Starmer and the new leadership team. Starmer has faced down his internal opponents and achieved several changes to how the party is run. Whilst divisions remain, he appears to be firmly in the ascendancy compared to his opponents on the left of the party – who have suffered from negative press following the events of the conference.