Labour Party Conference 2021

This was the first party conference for Keir Starmer after winning the Labour leadership contest in 2020. Source: Rwendland (via Wikimedia Commons)

By Ella Lloyd | Political Editor

Gair Rhydd takes a look at the 2021 Labour Party conference, which took place in Brighton from September 25 to 29. 

Labour’s Party conference saw some of their long-awaited policies announced, as well-being Sir Keir Starmer’s first conference as Labour leader.

The Conference culminated in a speech from Starmer, which lasted for around double the time of his counterpart Boris Johnson’s at the Conservative Party conference. However, Starmer arguably had more work to do; unlike Johnson, Starmer was speaking to a party which has been in opposition for over a decade, suffered a heavy defeat at the last general election, and is plagued by divisions. Labour’s election defeat was acknowledged by Starmer, who after criticizing the failures of the Conservative Government asked ‘If they are so bad, what does that say about us? Because after all in 2019 we lost to them, and we lost badly’.

As he delivered his speech, he rebuffed heckles from far-left critics, many of whom remain loyal to former leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is suspended from the party. 

Starmer attempted to use his family background to explain the basis of  his philosophy, drawing on his father’s toolmaker occupation in his metaphor of ‘re-tooling- Britain’, and his mother’s service in the NHS as well as her long-term illness in promises to fund the NHS ‘properly’. 

Starmer criticized the Prime Minister’s response to COVID-19 as a failure of care 11 years in the making, whilst also calling upon his legal background to condemn breaches of COVID-19 restrictions by Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock which went unpunished. Starmer said Johnson’s ‘assumption that the rules don’t apply to him’ offended ‘everything I stand for’. 

He also nodded to his legal background – particularly his relationship with John and Penny Clough – as he pledged to tackle violence against women and girls by fast-tracking rape and sexual assault cases, and introducing tougher sentences for rape, stalking, and domestic abuse. Promises for more police, however, were criticized as inappropriate in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder. 

His philosophy for work was evident in his pledges for education: re-instating compulsory work experience and guaranteeing every child sees a careers advisor. He also committed to a curriculum highlighting arts, sport, and digital skills so that children will leave school ‘ready for work’. 

Ambitions for a technologically advanced Britain was seen in the plan to ‘Make Brexit Work’ with technology, investing in people and places, and affordable housing, as well as discussion on climate change.

Both a Green New Deal and Clean Air Act were promised to combat climate change. 

The labour leader said that Tax policy would not let the burden fall on working people, and would guarantee value for money.

There was controversy elsewhere as shadow cabinet member Andy McDonald quit in protest of Starmer breaking pledges made to MPs, particularly a promise to introduce a £15 per hour minimum wage. A motion supporting the increase was passed by party members the day after  McDonald’s resignation.

Deputy Leader Angela Rayner criticized the awarding of coronavirus contracts to companies connected to ministers and promised to ‘stop the dodgy deals handing public money to ministers’ mates’.

Reactions to Starmer’s speech were mixed, with some praising ‘clear vision’, whilst others called it ‘uninspiring’

Starmer told the BBC during the conference that winning elections was more important than party unity. As rows continue, it’s clear the latter hasn’t been achieved, but whether Labour can win an election remains to be seen.

Ella Lloyd Politics

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

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