Labour Party Conference 2023 – Ready to serve, ready to lead
October 12, 2023
If party conferences were judged by the energy and excitement in the room and overall mood, it’s fair to say that the Labour Party leadership should be satisfied.
Unfortunately, this year’s conference was overshadowed by the atrocious events in Israel, which have quite rightly dominated the news headlines, leaving little space for anything else. This means that not much of what has been announced would stick with the wider public, and the Party will need to be disciplined enough to repeat the main messages at every opportunity.
What will definitely stick, however, is a sense that Keir Starmer has successfully achieved his number one priority: to turn Labour into an electoral force again, having been soundly beaten by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in 2019. This is reinforced by a strong showing in the recent Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election. By-elections of course must also be taken with a pinch of salt, nevertheless, it is not difficult to see why the Labour Party are increasingly optimistic about their electoral chances in 2024.
The main message from the conference is clear: there is a lot to be hopeful for, but there is no place for complacency. As a recent Ipsos poll has suggested, 38% of voters haven’t made up their minds yet, so there is still plenty of time for the undecided to move towards other parties.
Tory politics has been turned against them – both Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Jonathan Reynolds, the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, had an effective message: the Labour Party is now the party of business, home ownership, and fiscal responsibility. If businesses seem to be well disposed towards Labour, being the party of ownership will prove to be tricky as MPs are likely to continue to align with residents who oppose new buildings and infrastructure projects ‘in their backyard’. We need to see the details of the policies announced before making a judgement. The green belt, for example, is a policy mechanism intended to stop urban sprawling, not an aesthetical evaluation of the land, so rebranding it “grey belt” is a cheeky attempt to muddy the waters.
Mark Carney’s endorsement – if some of the main announcements might have been lost because of the war in Israel, former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s endorsement of Rachel Reeves has hit the headlines. By calling her a ‘serious economist’, Carney sent a signal to investors and the City, and his endorsement may convince a significant pool of traditional conservative voters who are keen to distance themselves from the more extreme fringe of the Party.
Net Zero remains a central issue – after the Uxbridge by-election in July, many have read the result as an indication of the public’s opposition to climate change reforms. Although some Conservative grandees, such as Theresa May, have warned the party not to overinterpret it as an anti-environment vote, Rishi Sunak decided to wind back on climate change. The Labour Party seems to have resisted the attempt to do the same and Starmer has reinforced his commitment to making Net Zero an opportunity for growth, economic stability, and energy security.
Sunak’s leadership was attacked – To appeal to centrist voters, the Labour strategy team managed to draw attention to the stark contrast between Starmer and Sunak and their ability to deal with party extremists. Whilst Corbyn is a distant memory, Liz Truss is still very much around. As Reeves sarcastically put it: she “might be out of Downing Street but she is still leading the Conservative Party”. This could get worse this week because of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Rwanda flights. If the government loses, Sunak will almost certainly be forced to engage with the thorny issue of whether the UK should leave the European Convention on Human Rights, which will come across as a massive concession to the right of the party.
King’s Speech and Autumn Statement
As discussed in our analysis of the Conservative Party Conference, the King’s Speech (7 November) and the Autumn Statement (22 November) are arguably the most important political milestones before the General Election in 2024.
They are an opportunity for the Government to reset the agenda as well as to have some of the announcements made in Manchester distilled in primary and secondary legislation. They are also an opportunity for the Opposition to question the Government’s approach and to follow up with alternative solutions.
As Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves made clear, the next General Election will be fought on the economy. Any future policy announcements will continue to be carefully reviewed to show they are properly funded, as the level of scrutiny will remain high for the Labour Party.
Most importantly, the Manifestos will be finalised over the next few months.
There is still time for organisations to engage with the policy-making process and, potentially, to influence the content, which will include much of the policy details that the party conference announcements lacked.
How FINN Partners can help
Please do get in touch if you have any questions or would like to discuss how the public affairs team can support your business ahead of the General Election.
Public affairs strategies – we design and execute public affairs strategies to help you navigate the policy and political landscape to maximise impact, promote opportunities, and minimise risk.
Advocacy – we engage directly with policymakers and lawmakers to shape the decision-making process, sharing insight, perspectives, and data to advance your objectives.
Research and political intelligence – We provide in-depth research and intelligence in support of your advocacy goals. We offer policy and regulatory monitoring, political intelligence, as well as content creation to distil complex research and data into easy-to-understand arguments targeted at different audiences.
Stakeholder engagement – We work with our clients to identify and build a network of allies to form coalitions in support of your campaigns’ objectives.
Contact Carolina Gasparoli, Vice-President, London Office email@example.com