Reflections from the Party Conferences

Author - Rachel Anderson

Date published:

The Chamber’s latest column for The Journal by Rachel Anderson, assistant director of policy.

October is here, the leaves are falling and once again, Chamber staff have packed their trunks and headed off to the circus, or the Party Conferences as they are usually called.

We do this so we can champion the North East and its brilliant business community, that’s our job after all. It’s not pretty, your feet hurt, and you get to talk to many people who are mainly annoyed, pompous or drunk (or all three).

What it does give us is a window on the mood of the parties, whether that be government or the opposition, and it gives us some insight, especially in what could be an election period, into current issues. It also helps us to shape our lobbying plans so we can get the best deal for the North East.

So, a few reflections on this year’s conferences. They were very different, as you would expect them to be, with palpable differences in energy levels. The Labour conference was energised but cautious, the Conservatives, a little flatter but earnest. 

Firstly, the tribes. Politics is, by its nature, tribal but there are always tribes within tribes, and at this year’s conferences it was noticeable how many young people were attending. At the Conservative conference, they tend to look identikit in blue suits and ties, and very pale having spent too much time in libraries reading Milton Friedman.

At Labour, there are less suits but equally earnest and concerned about their flavour of social justice. Both demographics were significantly younger this year and it is good to see.

Secondly, we got a better idea of where the parties see issue differentials or “wedges” between them to be exploited at the next election. The Conservatives are clearly looking at immigration and taxation as issues, and Nigel Farage was very conspicuous around the conference. 

Labour talked much more about devolution, local decision making and housing. It seems also, at Labour at least, that an Industrial Strategy might be back on the agenda.

Lastly there are the promises. All politicians make promises, all politicians at some point in their career break promises. However, a party leader’s keynote speech is a different matter and things promised in those speeches should be honoured. 

We heard a lot of promises to our region directly or indirectly from Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, and it is our job as a Chamber to remind them of those promises and ensure they deliver on them.

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