Building’s David Blackman reports from Liverpool where Labour’s remoteness from government is all too apparent
A slightly down at heel high street, which has seen better days: that was the impression walking around the exhibition at this year’s Labour Party conference.
When Tony Blair was in his pomp, this section of the conference was crammed with stalls paid for by the great and good of the corporate world, who were keen to get that little bit closer to what looked for a few years like the natural party of goverenment.
These days though, the hall has a very different feel, which tells us a lot about how Labour’s relationship with business has changed since it went into opposition in 2010. A big chunk of the stalls are taken up by charities, much like the many high streets that have been colonised by the same organisations’ trading arms over recent years. It’s an environment that the party’s re-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn probably feels eminently comfortable in.
But while many on the left might see this no show as evidence of business reverting to Tory type, for many Labour’s remoteness from government is the biggest turn off. This sentiment is likely to have been exacerbated by last weekend’s re-election of Corbyn despite his historically low poll ratings.
John Healey, who is tipped to return as Labour’s housing spokesperson after joining the mass walk-out by the shadow cabinet during the summer, continues to do sterling work in hammering out policy in one of the few areas that unites his party’s warring tribes.
However, for the first time in living memory, the real energy at this year’s conference has surrounded the party’s local representatives. Sadiq Khan was greeted like a conquering hero at a fringe reception last night by delegates applauding his victory in May’s London mayoral election. And those who have been selected to fight Labour’s corner at the first wave of metro-mayoral contests next year in the west midlands, Greater Manchester and Liverpool, have been packing out halls.
Healey noted at one meeting that Labour’s path back to power runs through local goverment. Even that idea may look optimistic, given the opposition party’s current plight. With big hitters like Khan and Andy Burnham taking posts outside of Westminster, Labour looks a lot more relevant at a local level these days though.
David Blackman is a freelance journalist and former Building housing editor