Monday morning at the Labour Party Conference. I awoke to a storm but it has evaporated into sunshine – a metaphor for the Keir Starmer’s first in-person conference since becoming leader? Only time will tell.
If conversations in the bar last night are anything to go by, the mood is very different to the last few years. Buoyed by the success of motions relating to internal party election changes, the front bench team is in good spirits. While they knew they had the numbers to force the changes through, they were not looking forward to a row with membership and managed to escape that fate.
Of course in communication terms, the risk for them is that they now relax. The advice I shared with those Shadow Ministers and advisers I spoke to last night was that they needed to use this Conference to make clear what the party stands for. Their objective cannot be merely to get through the week; it needs to be ambitious, rally their troops, use the media gathered in Brighton to tell their story more effectively, and to get on the front foot. Otherwise, it risks remaining the Opposition for a long while yet.
The Shadow Ministers and their advisers out and about last night were surprisingly open to having policy discussions with the private sector. Indeed, I was able to pitch a couple of proposals over a pint and have already had follow up emails from policy team members. It is clear that they want to collaborate with business, that they know that have to work with employers (and the unions) to ensure they pursue policies that have appeal, are workable and will deliver the social and economic impact they desire.
This is a real change to Corbyn’s Labour, where these kinds of conversations just didn’t take place. It meant that fewer businesses and organisations bothered to attend. This is my first visit to Labour in many years. But this morning with my sunglasses on, I am pleased to be in Brighton rekindling relationships with the Opposition.