'Our party has changed': Why Labour believes it could win the next election

Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria are greeted by party supporters as they arrive in Liverpool for the conference. Credit: PA

As Labour members gather in Liverpool, it’s clear that there is a new sense of confidence in the party, a belief that come the next election - they can win.

That’s driven in part by the polling, of course, which gives the party a solid lead over the Conservatives and suggests no major sign yet of a Liz Truss honeymoon, for now (Tory conference could change that, of course).

But it’s also because they feel they’ve driven forward some of the most popular economic arguments.

Take the windfall tax, that Rishi Sunak eventually introduced as chancellor and that remains incredibly popular in focus groups and polls.

To some in Labour it’s bizarre that Liz Truss is railing against this policy (especially when she actually isn’t reversing the windfall tax that’s in place) given public support.

When I asked Stephen Hey (the owner of the Wickham arms in Cleckheaton who I’ve spoken to regularly through recent weeks and months) about the budget and if he objected to the government raising the cap on bankers’ bonuses - he wasn’t bothered. But - as he faced jaw-dropping electricity bills - he was furious that they weren’t taxing the massive profits of the energy giants.

And then there was the price cap - again an idea that came from Labour and was picked up by the Conservatives.

Watch as Labour members sing God Save the King at the conference

Senior figures in Labour were also excited by the way the party opened conference with a rousing rendition of God Save the King without any protests.

“If you want proof the Labour Party has changed, that tribute to the Queen was it. What a moment,” said one.

They believe that Keir Starmer’s patriotic response to the Queen’s death has helped to challenge one of the issues they believe caused widespread scepticism among a lot of voters in 2019 - does the Labour Party love Britain?

Suddenly questions over whether Labour could block a Tory majority and force a hung Parliament are shifting to whether the party could secure a majority itself.

That said, the situation is far from risk free for the party.

First of all, it is not yet clear how voters will respond to Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s budget proposals. The markets may have reacted badly but voters feeling the impact of the National Insurance reversal, for example, may not. And remember, better off voters still remain the most important block for the Tories.

Added to that is the boost Truss will have if her plans do trigger the growth she’s promising.

And the risk for Labour - that they’ll be trying hard to avoid of course - is that they end up sounding like they are anti growth and pro tax.

One shadow cabinet member said that in some ways, they couldn’t believe how helpful the Conservative’s latest policies were for Labour.

“A friend messaged and asked if Kwasi Kwarteng was secretly working for us,” they said.

“But we have to be careful - because they are trying to paint us into a corner. And we mustn’t be seen as a party that always wants to tax business."

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Another point for Labour right now is how hard to go on the green agenda. The start of their conference shows they are planning to embrace this - highlighting Rachel Reeves’ £28 billion climate investment pledge (announced last year) and including a “greener future” in their slogan.

But sources tell me some wanted to go further - even suggesting turning the party’s logo and the lights on the stage, green for conference. They wanted Starmer to go “all out eco-warrior” said one, adding that not everyone in the shadow cabinet was convinced. They feared a backlash if voters think the focus on the environment could cost them more.

That’s why Labour is being so careful to frame the green agenda in a pro-economic way - arguing that a drive for more insulation and renewables will cut bills, and create a swathe of new jobs.

They see the environment as an area of opportunity for the party, particularly against a slightly more sceptical Tory party (although one that is still sticking to net zero).

All in all, it is a fairly confident Labour here in Liverpool. With a sense that it’s game on for the next election - but also aware that its electoral challenge remains enormous and that Truss could still get a honeymoon period.