We have to fight the Tory project”: results of the Labour conference.

Author Ekaterina Dudakova
Category Columnists, Town
Date October 16 2023
Reading Time 4 min.

We have to fight the Tory project”: results of the Labour conference.

Following the Conservatives, Labour held its conference in Liverpool. Among the events presented are discussions on the future of the British economy, foreign policy, and the global role of artificial intelligence. And, of course, the speech by the party leader Keir Starmer, which is expected to be his last landmark public address before the next general election. It must be said that Starmer performed glitteringly brilliantly. That is in the most literal sense of the word: when the Labourleader stepped up to the podium and was about to begin… a bunch of glitter was thrown at him amid shouting: “True democracy is led by citizens!” The action was done by a protester from the People Demand Democracy group wholater explained that it was meant to call for reform of the British electoral system. Starmer continued his speech, partially covered (his shirt and hair) in glitter. Later this week,however, the protester publicly apologized for his actions. But let’s get back to the conference. So, here’s what Keir Starmersaid and promised…

“The Labour Party is committed to ‘building Britain back again'”: Starmer announced one of the biggest campaigns Labour would undertake if the party came to power. The overall plan is to build 1.5 million homes in urban areas to tackle Britain’s housing crisis through the use of the so-called “grey belt” lands. “Grey belts” are areas that have “already been built on”, such as abandoned car parks and shopping centres. New affordable housing will be created by bulldozing existing planning restrictions and allowing companies to buy land cheaply.

“Decade of National Renewal”: Starmer promised a higher level of devolution, specifically that the UK councils would receive higher authority in local policy regulations. This includes management of the local policies, such as distributing public funding for local housing and controlling private bus companies (while Starmer stressed that Manchester and Liverpool already had such powers, this should be extended to all other, smaller councils).

“A true partnership”: The Labour Party is concerned about the recovery of the British economy. Starmer emphasized that to implement the project of “rebuilding” Britain, the party is going to work closely with the private sector and launch a new “National Welfare Fund”. Labour hopes to:

bring its green policy goals closer to reality;
create new construction jobs by working with the private sector and investing in critical infrastructure such as “battery gigafactories, clean British steel, ports”: “More growth, more demand, more jobs”;
stimulate the development of science by supporting “researchers, investors, innovators.”

“The cost-of-living crisis and the revival of the NHS”:Starmer did not provide a specific action plan or figures, but said reform was needed. “Because if all we do is place the NHS on a pedestal then I’m afraid it will remain on life support. I know some people don’t like the word ‘reform’, but I tell you now, there’s no other option,” he said.

“A New Mindset – Great British Energy”: The Labour Party aims to invest in clean energy. Labour proposes to do this by creating a new energy company, Great British Energy, which would be based in Scotland: “Because though Great British Energy will be a shared mission, Scotland has the skills. Scotland has the ingenuity. And Scotland is at the heart of a Britain built to last.” Starmer said: “For the first time in a long time, we can see a tide that is turning. Four nations that are renewing. Old wounds of division exploited by the Tories and the SNP beginning to heal.” It should be noted also that Labour won seats in the recent Scottish by-elections.

Commenting on the results of the Labour conference and the proposals of the party leader, experts disagreed. Alex Prior, a lecturer in politics and international relations at London South Bank University, and Clara Eroukhmanoff, a senior lecturer in international relations, argue that Starmer has managed to build a strategy that is “relatable” and attractive to British voters. And while the Conservatives have emphasized Starmer’s knighthood (“They repeat the word “Sir” over and over when referring to Starmer in order to imply that he is upper class rather than working class – his actual background,” experts explain), the Labour leader overturned this narrative. He demonstrated his “authenticity,” described how his family struggled with poverty as a child andemphasized: “I’ve felt the anxiety of a cost-of-living crisis before. And until your family can see the way out, I will fight for you!”

However, David Gauke, a former Conservative cabinet minister and MP for South West Hertfordshire from 2005 to 2019, says Labour’s successes are only apparent when compared to Tory failures: “A difference has been made but from a Conservative perspective it is not a positive one. The Tories had a poor conference, Labour a very successful one.”

As Gauke notes, “For the first time since 1996, this looked like a Labour opposition is destined for election victory,” as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak failed to “distance himself from the fiscal irresponsibility of Truss and the general irresponsibility of Boris Johnson.” Sunak thus enabledStarmer to “keep attacking Truss and Johnson… and tie them to the current Conservative Party.” Gauke also stressed that Starmer had demonstrated “there was recognition of the importance of a thriving private sector, fiscal responsibility and the limits of the state” and proposed a “more pragmatic approach to Brexit” and an industrial strategy, thus helping tobring the private sector to Labour’s side. However, “there remain unresolved tensions,” such as the fiscal situation and rising interest rates on government debt. “It will become increasingly obvious that taxes will have to go up. Miliband’s £28bn Green Prosperity Plan will likely never be affordable. Labour’s employment rights agenda – the expansion of collective bargaining, full rights for workers from day one and the abolition of zero-hour contracts – will cause tensions with business in time. Delivering planning reform is much harder than promising it. Labour’s Brexit policy is too timid to be transformative,” says Gauke.

And Beth Rigby, political editor of Sky News, drew a direct analogy between the campaign strategies of Keir Starmer and Tony Blair: “Just like Blair in 1996, Starmer used his moment to appeal beyond his room to the undecided and doubters, to convince the public his party had really changed and was a party that instead of holding people back would help them on.” Rigby further highlighted the similarities between Starmer’s and Blair’s promises, which focused on “economic growth, work with business, a competitive tax regime and support for enterprise”.

But despite the criticism, the latest poll by The Times showed Sunak’s approval rating against Starmer was at a record lowpost-conference and that Labour had received a boost in confidence votes, with Labour at 47% and the Conservatives at 24%. So, it is clear that the voters’ confidence in the current government is rapidly declining, and Labour’s potential for future electoral success is on a speedy rise.