Friday, October 12, 2018

WHAT WE LEARNED FROM PARTY CONFERENCE SEASON

Alexi Ozioro, BESA Public Affairs & Policy Manager

 

For another year, BESA was pleased to represent members at the two main party conferences in Liverpool and Birmingham. In 2017, the party conference season did not disappoint for drama, intrigue and even comedy. Raucous renditions of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn,’ unexpected P45s and political uncertainty were the main points to remember from last year. 2018, however, has been quite different.

 

In Liverpool, the Labour Party were in high spirits and still raring for the opportunity of another general election. Key policy announcements from different Shadow Cabinet members were complimented by passionate and strong contributions from Labour Party members and delegates, making some of the more procedural sessions much easier.

 

Following a summer of difficult headlines, the Labour Party have been enjoying more positive coverage over the past two weeks; while in Birmingham Theresa May appears to have made some progress in securing her position since the setback of the 2017 general election.

 

A few rising stars certainly shone for the Conservatives, especially Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. This year’s conference was more focused on policy than politics, where Britain is going rather than where it has been and the Conservative Party’s vision for staying in government.

 

The Labour Party have recently enjoyed a substantial growth among young members, but an observation repeated time and time again in Birmingham was that Conservative attendance was up from last year and the average age was down.

 

Both the Conservative and Labour agendas had a number of housing, infrastructure, skills and SME focused fringe events, but a glaring lack of the words ‘Carillion’ and ‘Grenfell’ stuck out before the conferences.

 

During an episode of the Waugh Zone, BESA was able to question Secretary of State Greg Clark on the impact of late payments.  And it is good to see that he and BEIS have launched new measures to support workers, businesses and entrepreneurs and are looking to create ‘a responsible payment culture’ and finally ‘tackle late payment.’ Welcome news indeed.

 

But politics aside, there are some key things the construction industry and BESA members can take away from party conference season 2018.

 

LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE

  • To great applause both Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn declared that Labour will vote against a Brexit deal they do not think protects workers, manufacturing and jobs. With Theresa May sticking to her Chequers Deal, it seems that the Labour Party will be voting ‘No’ come the meaningful vote.
  • A Labour government would ‘kick-start a green jobs revolution’ and create 400,000 well-paid jobs. Regardless of what you make of the policy, this, coupled with a pledge to build a lot more houses, would definitely be a positive development for construction skills and jobs.
  • Anti-Semitism, the Party splitting, leadership challenges, Brexit coups and complete chaos. These were all things that people speculated about before the conference; but we now see Jeremy Corbyn more secure in his position than ever, rumours quashed and the Labour faithful firmly behind him.
  • Shadow Small Business Minister Bill Esterson, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow BEIS Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, were certainly doing the rounds at conference, speaking at a high number of business and SME focused events. The Labour policy and economic teams are hard at work looking at ways to reassure companies, great and small, that Labour are the new party of business. We eagerly await new policy announcements on this front.

 

CONSERVATIVE PARTY CONFERENCE

  • After the catalogue of errors in 2017, Theresa May came into fairly blanket praise for her speech this year. She appears to have left Birmingham with a more united Cabinet than people thought and the Party more aligned behind her. Cabinet Ministers spent the three days before the PM’s speech pushing their carefully crafted lines, which mostly found their way into the final speech also.
  • Conservative fringes focused on FinTech, AI, digital enterprise and of course housing. If the Conservatives are going to woo voters and stay in power, a new focus on technology and the digital economy could be a good direction for them.
  • A few key shifts in Government policy were praised by the media, especially the ending austerity, raising stamp duty on foreign property buyers and removing the cap on local authorities so that they can build more council houses. Some may say that these are un-Conservative policies, but appeared to be met with approval by the Party as well as the media.
  • ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ stickers were nowhere to be seen, but ‘Chuck Chequers’ stickers, pins and badges were certainly in fashion. However, the PM seems to have struck a nerve with Conservatives by implying that if they don’t back her, they don’t risk a bad Brexit – but no Brexit at all.

 

Both Parties have pledged new taxes on second homes as a way to tackle homelessness, both Party leaders can leave their respective conferences feeling more secure than they were before and we can all rest assured that we still don’t know what is going to happen with Brexit.

 

The Aldous Bill campaign was also well received at party conferences, with an additional 35 MPs pledging to support the Construction (Retention Deposit Schemes) Bill. As with last year, BESA saw some familiar faces, some new ones and have been pushing the issues that matter to members. We will be looking forward to the 2019 conference season, with Labour returning to Brighton and the Conservatives heading back to Manchester.

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