Infighting and cynicism won’t help – Labour has to get back to being a party of potential government

·3-min read
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gives his big conference speech on Wednesday  (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gives his big conference speech on Wednesday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

This Labour Party conference has snuck up on me. And I always feel a mix of trepidation and excitement about going.

It’s always lovely to see people from across the country and listen to ideas about the way things should be, but I would be lying if I said that for the last few conferences I didn’t feel some apprehension about the hostilities that can arise – mind you I feel like that about most family events I attend as well.

I could also be really snarky about how party conferences are just for the politically obsessed but in the end, I always get filled with joy by the fact that someone would come to Brighton from Carlisle to speak passionately in a fringe meeting about improvements needed to local transport. It’s a niche love, I understand that, but I spend so much of my life encouraging participation in politics that my cynicism usually falls away by day two.

The Labour conference this year is a chance, finally, for Keir Starmer to set out his stall. I will not make some outlandish claim that it is a make or break for the party, or that what happens at conference will be the most historically significant event in my political career – it won't, but it does matter.

The Labour Party has got to get back to a position of being a party of potential government. Successive election losses and internal fighting has left it too often feeling unconfident. It has not been the easiest start to conference. While an outward-looking performance by Keir Starmer on Wednesday is not going to change the political landscape overnight, it is an important step to take.

I like the vision that Keir Starmer has laid out, and think it is endlessly lazy to suggest that something being longer than a menu is a waste of time. I would absolutely love it if the prime minister had a detailed vision that he could articulate beyond a slogan. Perhaps if he had an 11-word, let alone an 11,000-word plan to level up the number of HGV drivers as he has levelled up taxes, the wait to see a GP and the price of energy, I’d have been able to buy more than a half of what I wanted from the supermarket. Alas, the cupboard is bare literally and metaphorically.

Keir Starmer and the shadow cabinet will be saying things I want to hear – and more importantly, what my constituents want to hear. They want to be able to afford to buy a house, or for their children to even be able to aspire to that; they want work to pay for a comfortable life without the worry of constant increasing cost of everything; they want to take an active part in making things better and to feel as if the future could be different. They largely don’t give a toss about the past, although my one constituent who is still annoyed at Ramsay MacDonald is, without doubt, a vocal force.

Conference is a chance to speak to the country, even though there are always internal party issues that have to be dealt with. It is a shame when it is the things we disagree about – rather than the stuff that we all want to hear – that becomes the focus.

Hey-ho rows, division and cynicism sell more papers than consensus and hope. It would be ridiculous to suggest that everything in the Labour Party is fine and doesn’t need changing – for the simple reason that the electorate don’t agree. I hope it is the electorate we always keep in mind while we are beside the seaside.

While I will inevitably roll my eyes at points, moan about a 7.30am breakfast meeting, and no doubt drink too much I end up saying something I regret, I think this conference might just be the beginning of a more secure future. And even as a sometime-cynic, I lean always towards hope.

Here’s hoping Brighton delivers more than is currently being delivered to my local shops and petrol stations.

Jess Phillips is the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding and Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

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