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Optimistic conversations: Learning from the Labour Party conference

In the second of our three-part series on Labour Party conference, Vic Barlow considers what we learned.

‘Let’s get Britain’s future back’ heralded Keir Starmer’s speech to some 18,000 delegates at Labour Party conference last month. And while the slogan’s clunky wording still managed to convey the hopeful sentiment, Starmer’s speech offered a far clearer articulation of Labour’s vision for the country. 

Since taking his role as Labour leader, Starmer has faced criticism for his lack of worked-up policies, of flip-flopping between positions, of being awkward in his demeanour. 

During the conference, however, Starmer’s experience of running large organisations, complete with strategies, objectives, costings, leadership and teams, finally shone through as he outlined what his missions could actually deliver in real life.  

Not only did his handling of the glitter protest show his calm character but the content of his speech revealed what we’ve been waiting for – the arrival of the man with a long-term plan. 

Little wonder then that the over-arching mood of the participants at the numerous New Statesman roundtables and panels Becky Slack and I chaired was one of optimism, where everyone saw their chance to help get Britain’s future back. 

Even though we covered everything from war crimes in Ukraine to decarbonising aviation, pediatric dentistry to life sciences, from tax reform to venture capitalism, social care for older people to green jobs, our diverse panels focused on remarkably similar asks of the “government-in-waiting”. 

So, what did we learn from our time in Liverpool?  

Organisations and business want certainty 

We know the importance of strategy; the clarity of what you want to achieve over a defined period of time, alongside who you must take with you to make it happen.  

Labour has outlined its missions to get Britain building again; switch on great British energy; get the NHS back on its feet; take back our streets; and break down barriers to opportunity. And Labour has nailed its messaging, with all Shadow Cabinet members and MPs at our events able to articulate what the missions mean in action. 

Experts want to contribute 

No organisation holds all the answers, and sharing and learning is a great strength. We heard every single one of our panel sponsors make the request of their MP guests to listen to their experiences and expertise as policy is developed and put into action.  

For instance, Takeda, a global biopharmaceutical company, offered international knowledge of R&D, clinical trials and innovation in health care to help deliver ambitions for the NHS and strengthen the UK’s position as a life science leader.  

‘Fairness’ is fundamental 

Labour is held to high account for delivering a fair society, in education, health, work and taxation. Experts from the CAGE research centre at Warwick University outlined their overhaul of the tax system for fairer contributions while the Centre for Progressive Policy shared ideas for levelling-up by addressing fundamental inequalities and untapped opportunities. 

Skills, skills, skills 

Access to enough talent was a big issue for some of our panels, and the request for investment in home-grown skills came up time and again.  

Clarion Housing Association talked about the need for more planning experts to help achieve Labour’s housing ambitions while BUPA’s roundtable covered the lack of pediatric dentistry, with a suggestion of adding 1p to each of the sin taxes to fund enough trainees and NHS spaces for children.

Skills also need to be an essential component of Labour’s social care strategy say Age UK, which pointed out there are an estimated 165,000 vacancies – finding ways to attract and retain talent in domiciliary and residential care will be essential if older people are to get the support they need.  

A willingness to plan for the future 

As well as making asks of Labour, our event panellists also shared how they would contribute to the party’s missions. 

The Chartered Institute of Management highlighted its ambitions for breaking down barriers to opportunity through inclusive work and responsible employers, including the need to pay careful attention to AI. 

British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association, Taylor Wimpey and M&G were among the sponsors who made clear requests for long-term planning that would give them and their partners the confidence to unlock investment and drive growth.  We heard a cautious welcome to Labour’s commitment to give them that certainty. 

A range of organisations shared their ideas on green energy and net zero targets, with environmental law charity, ClientEarth, considering how effective regulation can support a smooth transition to net zero; PwC exploring the best levers for supporting and incentivising the UK’s green industries; and gas distributors, Cadent, asking how to tackle the hesitancy many domestic customers experience regarding new ‘net zero’ initiatives.   

International Airlines Group and Boeing focused on the role of sustainable aviation fuel in helping the airline industry decarbonise, while a vibrant debate with Offshore Energies UK – and a surprise appearance from the Green New Deal campaign group - considered how to transition to net zero in a way that increases our energy security and supports the lives and livelihoods of British citizens. 

On a more sombre note, big data analytics company, Palantir, looked at how we can hold aggressors accountable for war crimes in Ukraine, including how to collect, verify and effectively use data within legal action.

Labour is ready to lead 

The energy from delegates, exhibitors, our event participants and the party faithful sparkled throughout conference. For our clients with an eye to the future, there are opportunities to align your ideas and innovations with Labour’s ambitions. The missions have substance and credibility – now it’s time to match your expertise, knowledge and solutions to Labour’s vision to get Britain’s future back.

Let us know how we can help. 

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