The Labour Party conference in Brighton this year is a prime opportunity for Keir Starmer to define his leadership of the Labour Party emerging from the pandemic.
So far, he has pulled very few punches, other than those to divide his party. There is no time like the present for Labour to set out a pioneering path to take our region and country forward.
The stakes in the West Midlands could not be higher - Starmer still has far to climb to win a General Election, having slid-back to a worse position in the Black Country than when he became leader over a year ago.
Labour’s loss of ‘red wall’ seats, across the Black Country and the West Midlands to the Conservatives in 2019 and in the recent local elections demonstrated that Labour needs to get back to brass tacks to regain trust with the electorate.
In that spirit, there are three key things I want to see from Starmer at the Labour Conference this year, to set our region on the right course with Labour.
1. Make Labour a bold alternative to the Conservatives
This conference is a chance to show that Labour has realigned with voters' needs, believes in the policies we stand for, and is ready to deliver on the promises we make.
Whilst Labour took a lead in one YouGov poll last week, voters still don’t know what exactly Keir Starmer stands for. Even though, as thinktank Labour in Communications revealed, Starmer has announced over 200 policy positions since he became leader, on the doorstep I’ve found voters are hard pressed to name just one.
As Andy Burnham wrote recently, just providing Westminster-style opposition to the Conservatives doesn’t communicate a clear and practical alternative vision for our country that is so important to demonstrate Labour’s ready to lead our region and our nation.
To show Labour is realigning with voters' needs, I want to see from Keir at conference is a vision that is bold and believable, bringing a new vision to the table about how we’re going to embrace the challenges the post-pandemic era presents; properly funding social care so it’s fair to all; building a world-class education system and delivering strong, well-paid jobs that are fit for the future.
Not merely just tinkering around the edges, but delivering a wholesale alternative to the Conservatives.
2. Listen to what voters actually want
Following the May elections, I asked Keir to “get back to brass tacks and represent proper politics for working families” by listening and speaking with them, not merely just to them.
I brought MPs, councillors, activists, and members of the public together across the West Midlands to listen to what they had to say about Labour. The message was absolutely clear: voters want an actions-not-words agenda, a bold vision for what Labour stands for, and strong local representatives that will stand up and go to bat for them.
When Labour acts and delivers, voters can see Labour is a clear alternative to the Conservatives. In Wolverhampton, I spoke to Labour councillors about how they’re delivering in power with Wolverhampton Council’s organising of food parcel deliveries for their residents. In Coventry, Labour won City of Culture 2021, which will not only benefit Coventry, but our whole region.
Keir needs to demonstrate at Labour conference that he’s willing to listen and have difficult conversations, learn from Labour’s wins in power across the country, and put forward an actions-not-words agenda to rebuild the trust of voters across our region.
3. Deliver a vision for the West Midlands
The path to Number 10 for Keir Starmer goes right through every single community in our region. With just 31 months (or less) until voters go to the polls to choose their MPs and Mayor of the West Midlands, Starmer needs to show Labour is serious about gaining back trust and proving what the West Midlands can be with Labour.
With the West Midlands home to the Tories most senior mayor, Keir needs to make more than just symbolic gestures and move Labour HQ to the West Midlands, bringing Labour’s priorities closer to Walsall than Westminster, representing working families and demonstrating how voters and their families across our region will be healthier, wealthier, and safer under Labour leadership.
At conference, Starmer can put actions first and build a bold blueprint of an energised Labour ready to take on the biggest issues we face.
The remaining challenge for Starmer is to show he’s not taking any vote for granted, and he will earn every vote Labour gets. If he demonstrates he’s ready to take a no-nonsense approach, a plan to solve the problems politicians have successively failed to tackle in Westminster, and a vision for our region and nation, I’m confident voters will back Labour to deliver it.