As conference closes in Brighton, Elizabeth Carey, our consultant on the ground at Labour Party Conference, reviews ‘Straight Talking Honest Politics’, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
If someone had told me six months ago that Jeremy Corbyn would be standing up as Leader of the Opposition to address the Labour Party Conference yesterday, I would now be asking them for this week’s lottery numbers too. Reactions to his conference speech are mixed, and we are still questioning what is really next for Labour. Many doubt he will make it to the Conference 2016 podium.
It is only 10 days since the new Shadow Cabinet was appointed, and unsurprisingly policy was light on the ground at Conference. While many of us in politics are all to0 familiar with ‘policy light, sound bite heavy’ speeches, this conference saw policy relegated to a minor feature on the media radar, and party dynamics generate the most press coverage. The press were preoccupied with how Laboour are ‘coping’ since the leadership and if Jeremy Corbyn was wearing a tie or not.
On the fringe
Labour’s catastrophic election defeat also provided a significant source of distraction at the Conference. Progress-affiliated MPs still sore from the leadership ballot, that roundly rejected their candidate, focused on trying to rationalise Corbyns triumph at a rally on Sunday night. Corbyn turned a blind eye to May’s result too, with no mention of it in his closing speech. It was almost as if the General Election never happened.
Much of the press coverage leading up to conference really played on splits in the split, and Corbyn sought to address this in his Conference speech. In a repudiation of previous leaders management style, he told his party ‘I am not a leader who wants to impose leadership lines all of the time’. Personally, I remain unconvinced. The feeling was more marmite, than the ‘unity’ Corbyn talked of.
John McDonnell making his first speech as Shadow Chancellor was the ‘highlight’ of Monday, and again failed to adequately address the key issues of Britain’s deficit, or reassure the business that a Corbyn-led Labour government would not have an adverse impact on the UK’s competitiveness.
Khan he do it?
London Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan also addressed conference on Wednesday, with attention now turning to next May’s election. This is the first real test for Corbyn and the wider party under his leadership. Khan’s speech focused on housing, which was rather unsurprising. He is calling the Mayoral race ‘a referendum’ on London’s housing crisis, speaking passionately against the Conservatives Housing Bill poised to come before Parliament in the next few weeks.
Khan has committed to helping Londoners by delivering more affordable rents, and helping first time buyers onto the property ladder. He claimed the Conservatives have let developers ‘off the hook’ when it comes to building affordable homes in the Capital. The speech did not feature anything new, but reiterated, what are likely to be, his key messages in the forthcoming Mayoral race.
Planning for the future
Conference highlights for the planning sector included Labour’s proposal for a new and extensive programme of council house building. Shadow Planning minister John Healey has also announced (another) review of housing, led by Pete Redfern, Chief Executive of Taylor Wimpey. The Redfern Review will examine the cause of the decline in UK house building and set out ideas for a wider debate on planning and housing policy, reporting back next summer. The pre-election Lyons Review already seems a distance memory, consigned to the dustbin of history alongside many of its predecessor reports.
A bit of small business
Small business highlights include a pledge for a more universal benefit system to help freelancers and micro business. This would include access to maternity pay and childcare schemes which many employees working in companies can currently benefit from. There was little in the way of commitments on SME policy, so it is a case of watch this space as Labour’s policy platform develops.
Onwards to 2016
And so as another party conference closes. What is next for Jeremy Corbyn?
His speech resonated with those who already support him but seemingly gave little to the masses, and particularly those hard to please swing voters in Nuneaton. He still has 0ver three quarters of his parliamentary party to win over, so it is perhaps, a case of one one step at a time. Lets see if he makes it to 2016.