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Insights and Analysis: Labour Party Conference 2017

By | Published October 2, 2017

If I was to sum up the week’s news in a catchy phrase bursting with alliteration, it would be something like “polls, planes, and Puerto Rico”. Bizarrely, though, the national media focus in recent days has been aimed at a setting far closer to home – Brighton.

The colourful seaside resort – and infamous Green Party stronghold – this week played host for the eighth time since the turn of the millennium to the annual Labour Party Conference, a captivating four-day collection of forums, Q&A sessions, and small talk with fellow Corbynites. As per usual, the conference was an opportunity for Jeremy Corbyn to strengthen his support within the party, and his keynote speech on the final day of the conference was met with hearty roars and applause.

A lot of people (myself included) might wonder what the importance of an annual party conference is – it almost feels like an opportunity for a political party to spend several days praising themselves for their annual achievements, which may not have been all that significant. It is, however, also a chance for a party to reinforce – or, in some cases, change – its stances on various relevant topics, and such decisions are often covered in detail by the media. Here is what some media outlets had to say about the event:

Labour still on the up?

Whilst there are those who voice their dislike for Corbyn and his abilities as an effective party leader, the response from the conference was generally positive, and this mindset is slowly leaking into the business sector too, suggests Stephen Bush of The New Statesman. A substantial majority of corporate organisations are concluding that 2017 Labour was in fact a powerful force, and one which has no intention of slowing down.

Contrastingly, a small number of opinion pieces (such as that by Nick Cohen for The Guardian) are countering that Labour’s rise has not been as a result of more and more people being swayed by the astonishingly left-wing policies that the party are currently in favour of, but more because it is slowly becoming a popular statement to be a Corbynite, and that the party’s growth due to the majority’s focus on the Islington North MP is detracting from other important matters at hand. A prime example of this idea and a party’s fixation on their leader was the chorus of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” that broke out frequently during his talks, and the speeches of other speakers.

Not very Brexciting

Ah, Brexit: the subject of History and Politics essays for decades to come; the slightly obscure answer in the 2026 edition of Trivial Pursuit; and, of course, a great (well, dreadful) conversation starter at any social occasion. Brexit for breakfast, Brexit in the papers, Brexit on the TV, Brexit-mania. Brexity Brexit Brexit. If you read it too many times, it stops looking like a word and starts to look like a joke. Ironic.

Surprisingly, Brexit was not at the heart of discussions at the conference last week, with delegates not voting for it as one of the eight policy motions that was debated in full, and instead reportedly putting aside only an hour or so to discuss the matter. Pro-EU members of the party had hoped that issues such as post-Brexit free movement and membership of the single market would be selected for debate, but it appears as though such topics were tactically avoided for the most part during the debate, and the conference as a whole. Even brief references to Brexit in Corbyn’s speech felt a little vague.

For the many, not the few – but especially for the young people

One significant talking point from the event was the passionate speech on education delivered by Mancunian student Lauren Stocks, who highlighted the unnecessary amount of stress that GCSE students go through during exam season. Stocks’ blunt and emotional address gave her audience a fascinating insight into what it is like to have experienced the overwhelming concoction of emotions and potential mental health problems that accompany going through the current secondary school education system. Her heartfelt three-minute speech was met with a standing ovation from her fellow party members, though Lauren has since received a fair portion of criticism, predominantly from trolls on social media. It is worth noting that Lauren’s speech emphasises the party’s considerable focus on the younger voters and their inclusion in the party in general, something which is far less noticeable within the Conservative and Liberal Democrat camps. Such a decision apparently paid off during the run-up to the 2017 General Election, and it appears Labour are continuing this focus on the younger generations as their primary demographic for current (and potential) supporters. Will this pay off? Who knows. We will just have to wait until the next General Election to see.