Already sensing the presence of many Labour Conference delegates on their way to Liverpool from the lack of oat milk at Euston station Starbucks (who says Labour doesn’t care about the environment…), I already knew the Conference was going to be a busy one.
Last year’s conference signalled that Labour should be quietly confident, but there were concerns that Starmer and his cabinet might burn out before a general election. This conference blew out of the water any notion that Labour isn’t on track to win the next general election.
Every main hall event, every fringe – all the speakers were delivering every line of their speeches with confidence and ease, as if they were speaking to a room of friends. And they are – the energy inside the ACC in Liverpool was like seeing lots of old friends bump into each other after a time of hardship, and the relief of finally being on the winning team was palpable.
However, for much of the membership, financial hardship is still very much a daily reality – and yet, in Starmer’s keynote speech, when asking “Why Labour?” the first thing he pointed to was “higher growth”. Not something that would inspire the average person struggling to pay their heating bill.
Whilst many have been quick to point out that the policy programme of the Labour Party is at odds with the vision that Starmer proposed when he ran for Labour leader, it is clearly working. Everyone can agree that the Shadow Ministers and MPs were walking with a spring in their step around the conference hall, practically punching the air as they stepped off stage to raucous applause.
This was perhaps what surprised me most about Labour conference. Everyone from Shadow Ministers to the organisers were too cautious to fully lean into accepting the clear path to victory. Admirable, definitely, but this points to a deep insecurity still running through the party leadership.
Whilst it would be naïve for Starmer to start measuring the curtains for No.10, especially given how quickly things change in politics, it would be equally naïve to think that Labour will be able to ride their current strategy until the next election without facing rising opposition from its own membership. The remaining Corbynites are now largely an irrelevance but they are still useful in continuing to act as a demonstration of how much Labour has changed under Starmer.
Starmer clearly has the support from the businesses he set out to schmooze – it will be interesting to see when he begins to set out more of those retail policies that are so important to party staffers out on the doorstep. As, whilst the average voter probably will not be paying attention to what changes the Labour Party have made to its CLP exec team, they also probably couldn’t tell you any of Labour’s five missions – and you can be sure that the Tories will be attacking Labour on this.
It will be interesting to see if tensions between the leadership and its members continue to rise, and if members are not soothed – glitter might be the least of Starmer’s problems at the next conference.