If the energy of a party conference alone could deliver the keys to Number 10, Keir Starmer would be measuring the curtains already.
Labour Party Conference in Liverpool was exhausting – the sheer number of people to meet, fringe events to attend, and exhibition stands to view (special mention to Chester Zoo and Ikea).
Having digested what I saw and heard, here’s my perspective on what we can expect from the Labour Party in the coming months, and what that means for those wishing to engage with it.
With a significant poll lead, it was crucial that Labour ran a tight ship in Liverpool, and avoided the potentially divisive sideshows that seemed to dog Conservative conference the previous week.
As it turned out, the level of message discipline from Starmer’s shadow front bench was remarkable – from speeches in the conference hall, to contributions as panellists at fringe events.
Economic discipline, no unfunded spending, a sense of realism about the state of the nation’s finances. At times it felt like once you’d heard one shadow minister speak, you’d heard them all, such was the consistency in message.
Labour’s conference felt like that of a well-oiled machine ready for power.
The other standout element of Labour Party conference was that ‘purpose’ was at the core of everything.
This is a party, and a membership, that wants to reshape the UK. From childhood education, to foreign aid, health reforms to housing – the breadth of the topics covered by the fringe programme alone was extensive.
Flyers were thrust into your hand the moment you paused – there were even primary school pupils handing out stickers calling for universal free school meals as you stood in line for security.
While the leadership will be focused on the ‘big’ issues facing the UK, its approach will also need to reflect the views of a membership, and a likely significantly enlarged parliamentary party, that has a range of issues on its mind, and will demand action.
The role of technology in solving the various challenges the UK faces was a consistent theme across Labour conference. From improving capacity in the NHS, to tackling climate change, and of course future applications of AI, it was hard to escape it during the fringe programme, or even conversations around the conference venue.
With Labour promising strict fiscal discipline, and the economy showing no ready inclination to grow, all politicians will be looking to tech to improve public services, without necessarily having to increase spending.
Private sector organisations that can provide technology, or ideas for how to upskill the workforce to harness technology, to help with public sector delivery, have a significant opportunity for engagement with both the current, and next, government.
Starmer’s speech to conference demonstrated one thing particularly well – agility.
He repeatedly moved between the day-to-day things that matter to ordinary people, and the big issues that will define the future of the country, ushering in what he hopes will be a “decade of national renewal”.
He pivoted from practical money-raising policies like scrapping ‘non-dom’ tax status and VAT exemptions for private schools, to devolution of power away from Westminster and reform of police funding.
He managed to weave a narrative that dealt with the issues at the top of voters’ minds right now, with a vision for longer term change.
Business now needs to replicate that agility when engaging with Labour.
Your message needs to align with their key policy priorities for today. Ideas must be fully costed, and clearly tackle central issues such as NHS waiting lists or job creation.
But they must also align with Labour’s emerging, long term vision for the UK – rebalancing the economy, driving growth in regional hubs, and building a greener base for industry.
Any organisation that can speak to both elements – short term pragmatism, and long-term vision – will find their message and advocacy landing with a much more receptive audience in Labour’s shadow cabinet.
And if Labour can maintain the momentum of its conference, that shadow cabinet may well be assembling for the real thing in Downing Street in a year’s time.
Written by Jamie Slavin, Practice Director, Public Affairs