Party Conferences 2022: Can Any Party Deliver a Progressive Future for Britain?

UK Policy

Party Conferences 2022: Can Any Party Deliver a Progressive Future for Britain?

Posted on: 7th October 2022
Jess Lythgow
Political Researcher

Earlier this year, Tony Blair identified a "gaping hole in the governing of Britain" as the country faces three seismic challenges: Brexit, the technology revolution and climate change. At the Future of Britain conference, which the Tony Blair Institute hosted in June, we set out a progressive path for the country to address these challenges with policy recommendations under our six pillars for a better future.

With party conference season having recently concluded for Labour and the Conservatives, the question of the UK's traditional parties' efficacy in delivering for Britain’s future is at the forefront of voters' minds.  

The Conservative Party's calls for "growth, growth, growth" focused entirely on reduced taxation, while Labour committed to reviving plans to increase corporation tax

Present throughout Labour’s economic policy was a curated balancing of growth, redistribution and fiscal responsibility. As Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said, "Labour is the party of economic responsibility and the party of social justice." The message was simple; redistribution is not antithetical to growth. Labour committed to reviving scrapped plans to raise corporation tax to 25 per cent.

Despite being forced to abandon the plan to remove the top rate of income tax, the Conservative Party Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng points to a "70-year-high tax burden" as a barrier to Britain’s growth. Liz Truss was clear in her message that the Conservatives are the "party of low taxes" and that the borrowing required to fund tax cuts will pay off through investment which grows the "size of the pie" of the UK economy.  

Tax reform is urgently needed – our current system fosters vast inequity within the UK. However, the answer is not simply to lower taxes. TBI sets out three key areas of reform: shift the balance of taxation away from income to assets, address climate change by increasing carbon taxes and address intergenerational disparity. Conference season demonstrated that root-and-branch tax reform remains an unaddressed gap in British politics and the plan for the country's future.

Climate change emerged as the starkest contrast in policy between the two parties

Key to Labour's economic vision is the Green Prosperity Plan, committing to investing £8.3 billion in British projects to deliver a carbon-free energy sector by 2030. Labour claims that the plan will accelerate energy independence, reduce energy costs by £93 billion within this decade and create 1 million new green jobs across the UK. This will be bolstered by the establishment of Great British Energy, a publicly owned company which will provide additional clean energy capacity to the private-energy sector. Climate ambition was also the focus of international trade, with the announcement of British climate export hubs.

The climate discourse at the Conservative conference was dominated by fracking after the government recently lifted a ban on the process. Alongside this, Truss used her speech to commit to renewable energy while also advocating for the expansion of North Sea gas fields. The speech indicated a hybrid approach to carbon energy, which seemed to bolster Rees-Mogg’s call for an intelligent approach to net zero. Steve Baker indicated that Britain cannot afford net zero in the short term.

The Future of Britain message is simple. Net zero is a key pillar of Britain’s future – "a clean, modern, prosperous land, built on green energy and jobs". Rather than net zero being a problem to solve, it is the solution to multiple issues. Key to the success of Britain’s climate ambition is reconciling net zero with economic growth. Policy on climate action must be shaped through three characteristics: leadership, innovation and consensus. The disparity between Labour and the Conservative’s response to net zero raises significant concerns for consensus. The journey to net zero requires longevity and therefore consistency across the political spectrum.

Reforming public services must go further than investment, but neither party produced a robust plan for the vital incorporation of technology

Conference season shined a spotlight on Britain’s public services. Following years of consecutive crises in our public services, both Labour and the Conservatives argued for urgent reform. The is clear in its six pillars for a better future: reforming our public services goes hand in hand with embracing technology. Current models of government are constrained in their response to increasingly complex issues, but services can be improved through personalisation and the removal of lengthy administrative processes.

At their conference, Labour were resolute in their plans to invest money into police, education, social care and NHS recruitment. Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting announced a 10-year plan to modernise the NHS, a key part of which is driving recruitment to improve GP access. The plan is contingent on shifting care from hospitals to more primary care, with improved social care, GP access and mental-health services. Streeting used the language of modernisation, but within the forum of party conference it is not yet clear how technology will be utilised. Future iterations of the modernisation policy should seek to expand upon this to ensure that policy enhances the role of technology in improving public services.  

Health Secretary Thérèse Coffey's conference speech also spoke to investing in the NHS, but this was overshadowed by a wider concern that the Conservatives cannot rule out cuts to public services. As much of the conference centred on economic growth, specific pledges to increase public-service investment were notably absent. Reflecting on both conferences, the role of technology in enhancing our public services remains a gap in policy.

Britain requires a progressive plan, but as Labour and the Conservatives build towards a full manifesto, critical policy gaps remain

Through the lens of the need for a credible plan for Britain, there is much in Labour’s plan to inspire confidence. Robust climate ambition is wedded to economic growth and Keir Starmer’s leadership shows a quiet move away from class-based ideology, shifting the focus to pragmatic policy outcomes. As the Conservative Party vie with internal division, the specific policy outcomes from their conference remain unclear. While positive steps were taken, a radical and coherent plan for the future of our country remains the biggest and most urgent task for the main parties.

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