Our Head of Engagement, Liam Ronan-Chlond was there to connect with local representatives from the communities we serve and listen to some of the latest policy discussions at this critical national time.
The scene for the conference was set by the passing of Her Majesty the Queen earlier this month, a new Prime Minister and a new tax-cutting budget.
While the conference was taking place, Russia was preparing to annex key regions in Ukraine, Italy elected a far-right leader, UK mortgage lenders were preparing to respond to rate rise fears and the British Pound was plummeting in the markets.
The conference agenda and the conversations taking place on the fringe, therefore, responded to the multiple and complex challenges facing the UK.
This was a moment for Labour, and in particular, Sir Keir Starmer, to present themselves as the party with the right answers to the difficult questions over energy, cost of living, inequality and the climate emergency. Labour needed to show the UK electorate that they were a government in-waiting.
Opening the conference with the National Anthem was a party first, and aligned with a huge Union Flag encompassing the conference stage. Sir Keir and his Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, seemed keen to present themselves as serious, sober and stable stewards for the country.
The Conservative government, said Sir Keir, had lost control of the economy with its tax-cutting agenda. Labour promised a "fresh start" for the UK, pledging to invest in more funding in the NHS and to set-up a publicly-owned green energy company within a year if he is elected, achieving 100% clean power by 2030. He also called for more support for home ownership and reached out to businesses, with a scrap on business rates and opportunities to partner on skills and industrial strategy.
Labour in power locally
Despite Sir Keir’s keynote speech being the focus of attention, the Labour conference is not just about UK Parliamentary politics. In attendance were party members, candidates, Councillors, MPs, elected Mayors and other representatives from across the country.
Socius held a roundtable discussion with councillors from across the South of England, including Bristol, Barnet, Brent, Camden, Ealing, Milton Keynes, Reading and Stevenage. This conversation with local representatives reflected the wider national context of economic and environmental challenges being faced by communities across the UK.
However, there is a key difference between these councillors and the national party. Unlike the Parliamentary Labour frontbench, these local representatives are in power and making daily decisions and delivering policies on the ground to support their local residents. Some of the councillors have been in power at a local level for decades.
Together, we discussed some key questions presently affecting our communities. How could councils and developers work together to respond to the growing energy crisis and rising cost of living? How could councils work with developers to reduce inequality at a local level? How can councils and developers work to ensure the delivery of new homes, jobs, public spaces and skills?
There was a mix of responses, from councillors representing new towns to those representing long established cities. The opportunity to share these local experiences, challenges and aspirations from different towns and cities across the South of England was clearly illuminating for all who attended.
Ready for Government?
Returning from Liverpool on the Tuesday, following the speech by the Leader of the Labour Party, there was a feeling that some unity and confidence has returned to the Labour Party. The exhibition hall was busy, with more businesses exhibiting than I’ve seen in the past ten years. This demonstrates that there is also an external confidence that Labour could be ready for Government.
Is this Labour’s moment? The party seem to think so.