MPs returned to Westminster recently after a parliamentary recess for the annual party conference season.
Conservative Party delegates arrived in Manchester (though not via train, thanks to continuing rail strikes) to hear an announcement on the scrapping of HS2’s northern leg and a Suella Braverman leadership bid.
The Labour party, meanwhile, headed to Liverpool, for an event that was “glittering” for all the wrong reasons.
But what policy news did the major speeches bring, if any, and what could the next General Election mean for you?
Heckles, HS2, and a home secretary on a mission – 3 key takeaways from the Conservative party conference
1. HS2 plans were derailed and replaced with “Network North”
One of the biggest stories to come out of the Conservative party conference had been largely trailed in the lead-up to the event.
The prime minister’s decision to scrap the Birmingham to Manchester leg of the multi-billion pound high-speed rail project had already been leaked. And despite £2 billion having been spent on the scrapped leg so far, Rishi Sunak confirmed that his new “Network North” replacement service would ultimately save £34 million.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, was quick to state that the plans would “permanently reduce the size of the northern economy.”
Sunak was quieter on the long-term prospects for jobs and investment in the north. In fact, the Conservative’s levelling up plans noticeably took a back seat at the conference.
2. Spending on education
Despite a conference-wide theme of keeping spending under control, Sunak did confirm that the party’s “main funding priority in every spending review from now on will be education”.
The prime minister announced that A-levels and T-levels would be combined into an “Advanced British Standard” – although the new qualification will apply in England only.
Implementing this new scheme of post-16 education will be expensive and Sunak pledged £100 million a year to put the plans in place. He also promised bonuses for new teachers.
3. The issue of immigration was left to Suella Braverman
The complex and polarising issue of immigration, and more specifically small-boat crossings, was picked up not by Rishi Sunak, but by home secretary Suella Braverman.
Many saw the speech as Braverman’s pitch for leadership (should Sunak and his party lose at the next General Election). In it, she spoke of a “hurricane” of “illegal migrants” and the government’s Illegal Migration Act, which is due to come into force in the coming months.
Attacking “woke-ism”, her views on “gender ideology” saw her heckled by members of her own party, with London Assembly member Andrew Boff escorted from the premises.
It’s an emotive issue and one that the Conservatives will need to get right if it’s going to win next time the UK goes to the polls.
Labour promised to build houses, agree a better Brexit deal, and get the UK’s net-zero pledges back on target
1. The Labour party are promising a “decade of renewal”
If the majority of policy announcements were left for Rishi Sunak’s speech in Manchester, in Liverpool, the conference-wide message was one of vision rather than policy.
Sir Keir Starmer has promised that Labour will turn the economy around and get Britain building again, heralding a “decade of national renewal”.
Through of series of planning reforms, which will come into force quickly after a Labour election win, Starmer pledged 1.5 million new homes. The party will use “grey belt” areas. A “generation of Labour new towns” was also announced.
The phrase “getting Britain building again” was used throughout.
2. Achieving net zero is high up in Labour’s priorities
In the wake of Rishi Sunak’s watering down of net-zero promises, and Suella Braverman’s assertion that “We won’t save the planet by bankrupting the British people”, Labour committed to the “how” rather than the “if” of net zero.
Starmer is looking to “speed ahead” with plans to tackle climate change, concentrating on the long-term benefits of lower energy bills.
Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband, meanwhile, insisted that workers in fossil fuel industries could be retrained, and be the ones to “build our clean energy future”.
What has been labelled “the greatest investment in homegrown energy in British history” will see a Labour government pledge £28 billion a year.
3. A better Brexit deal under a Labour government
Whether in Liverpool or Manchester, neither party seemed keen to mention the B-word.
The Conservative party line was that Brexit is working, while Keir Starmer at least alluded to issues it has created by confirming his desire to search for a better deal for the UK.
While shadow chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves claimed that the Conservatives had delivered “Brexit, without a plan”, Starmer nodded to the post-Brexit problems for UK businesses.
How Starmer would look to improve on the current deal, or if the EU will let him, remains to be seen.
What remains to be seen, too, is how these differing government priorities will look in practice.
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