As he walked off stage, Sir Keir Starmer allowed himself a smile. The Labour leader delivered his most compelling performance yet in front of a rapturous audience. His keynote speech at Annual Conference was heard by a unified, buoyant party motivated by the scent of power.
With economic storm clouds hanging over the Government and positive polls blowing at their back, Labour is approaching the next general election with confidence. Their focus has turned from settling the internal battles of the past, to setting out their policy vision for the future.
Starmer has long been urged to define what his government would stand for, and after the past week the dividing lines in British politics could not be clearer. The two main parties have dramatically different visions for growth.
While the Tories have adopted a trickle-down economic model, Labour has focused its approach on net zero investment. Green growth was a theme that ran throughout the conference, and the leadership clearly believe it’s an agenda that can kickstart economic activity and drive regional prosperity.
Green growth may be Labours equivalent of ‘levelling up’; a platform on which they can build an election-winning coalition. One which brings together voters worried about climate change with a more traditional group concerned about the economy.
To launch this agenda, Starmer announced the creation of Great British Energy, a new publicly owned energy generation company. He exclaimed “the future wealth of this country is in our air, in our seas, in our skies. Britain should harness that wealth and share it with all. British power to the British people.”
This is a powerful message that links energy and aspiration. Starmer is attempting to rewrite the narrative that Labour is too negative about the country. He wants to present an optimistic view of Britain and its potential.
However, while the party is unified in public, there are rumours of internal unhappiness around this strategic approach. Some shadow ministers and aides disagreed with the conference slogan “a fairer, greener future” and felt the party focused too much on climate issues.
This group resents the influence of Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net Zero, Ed Miliband, and want him well away from the decision-making process after his role in the 2015 election defeat.
Miliband has led on Labour’s flagship energy policy and blames a dependence on fossil fuels for our current cost-of-living, energy security and climate crises. Consequently, he has pledged to ensure the UK reaches zero-carbon power by 2030, an ambition which could drive a new wave of investment into wind, solar, tidal, nuclear and hydrogen energy.
An incoming Labour government would provide the renewables sector with plenty of opportunities, but also fresh communication challenges. The party’s rhetoric has been tough around foreign-owned energy generators and these firms will need to highlight the positive impact they make in the UK.
Most importantly, existing companies will want reassurance that Great British Energy operates as an equal competitor in a fair market. Potential concerns could arise if Labour tries to strengthen rules around procurement or homegrown supply chains as part of their ‘buy, make and sell more in Britain” policy.
Proactive public affairs is beneficial for all parties. If Labour is to achieve its pledge of delivering zero-carbon power in only six years, then it must work closely with the renewables sector on issues such as skills and regulation – not to mention the massive investment and technological development needed to support a net zero grid.
Early indications suggest Great British Energy would be set up with a mandate to invest alongside the private sector in many areas, including in promising but less developed technologies such as tidal and small modular reactors. This would work in conjunction with another newly announced policy, the creation of an £8bn National Wealth Fund for investment in sustainable industry.
The next election looms large, and Labour is currently on the front foot. While success is not guaranteed, the party feels its wilderness years are drawing to a close. Any successful manifesto will be built on an agenda of green growth, with energy at its heart. The time to engage is now.
PLMR can help you seize potential opportunities and navigate political challenges. We provide integrated public affairs, PR and planning support across the energy sector. If you are interested in discussing how to maximise engagement with the UK’s leading parties then get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org