Frankly speaking: A tale of two cities

By Frank McKenna

21 Nov 2023

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There is little doubt who won ‘the battle of the conferences’ this year.

Following the annual gatherings of the Tories in Manchester and Labour in Liverpool last month, the polls have seen Keir Starmer’s party extending its lead.

Whilst he was able to focus on delivering his best speech yet as leader of the opposition at an event that attracted more than 18,000 delegates, many from the business community, the Prime Minister was overshadowed by Liz Truss, Suella Braverman and HS2 at a get together that was low on numbers, excitement, and ideas.

Labour looked like a party of government. Rishi Sunak looked like he was still having to talk to his party, rather than the country, trying to convince a membership that never endorsed him that he is the right man for the job.

It is incredible to think that just two years ago, at the same conferences, Starmer was being heckled, whilst the then PM Boris Johnson was being cheered from the rafters by his party faithful.

It is a reminder of how quickly things can turn around in politics. And it is for this reason that Labour’s leadership is, rightly, cautious about its prospects of victory at next year’s General Election.

An economic upturn, culture wars, or other unforeseen events could still derail Labour quicker than Rishi derailed HS2 and, lest we forget, the mountain Starmer has to climb following his party’s pummelling in 2019 is huge.

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that delegates who headed back to Westminster from Merseyside were far happier than those who trudged back from Manchester.

The election campaign is underway. And it is fair to say, it is now Labour’s to lose.

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