Starmer and his Shadow Cabinet will be in a jubilant mood this morning following a successful first day in Liverpool. The conference hall stood up and sang the national anthem with no heckles, no one resigned from the Shadow Cabinet in protest, and Momentum failed to get all but one motion on the ballot for debate. The cherry on top for Starmer of course will be the latest Savanta poll which sees Labour on course for a 56-seat majority at the next General Election.
Today’s main event however – Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ speech – is set against a bleak economic backdrop, with the Sterling falling to record lows in response to Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s tax-cutting mini-maxi-Budget. In what is now likely to be the most important speech of this conference, Reeves will unveil Labour’s economic plan as a clear alternative to the Government’s agenda.
While under Boris Johnson’s Government the Conservatives firmly placed their fiscal tanks on Labour’s lawn, it appears now that the troops are starting to fall back, and a clear divide is once again emerging between Labour and the Tories. Starmer and Reeves have already announced they would reinstate the 45p rate of income tax to fund public services. Labour believes that most voters would happily pay more in taxes, especially if largely confined to corporations and richer individuals, in return for better public services.
In her best Biden impression, Reeves’ conference speech – labelled as a “real plan for growth” – will argue that growth “comes from the bottom up and the middle out” not from the top. The Shadow Chancellor will almost certainly point out that much like her opposite number, she has been arguing for “strong and lasting growth” for a while now (circa Labour Party Conference, September 2021). Reeves will argue that investing in public services such as the NHS, schools and childcare is the only way to build the foundations of a strong economy – which she warns Truss is putting at risk. Following on from her speech at last year’s Conference, Reeves will also likely commit to reforming business taxation, pledging that typical high street firms will pay lower business rates bills under Labour.
Ahead of her midday speech, Reeves has already announced a key pledge under Labour’s new ‘Fairer, Greener Future’: an £8bn national wealth fund to invest in new industries in the UK. The fund would enable a Labour Government to invest directly in projects and create a return for taxpayers by investing in national schemes such as battery factories and renewable-ready ports, as part of their mission to “build British industry”.
With Labour finally able to clearly differentiate themselves from the Government, Reeves and Starmer have a window of opportunity that cannot be missed. Only time will tell if voters will be convinced by this ‘alternative vision’ but for now one thing is certain: Wes Streeting and his PR team have many more cover pieces left in them.