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Stay organized and plan for the months ahead with our European Elections Timeline

Government reshuffle: The opening act

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When it comes to Cabinet reshuffles, most politicians are well versed in the day’s proceedings. An anxious wait, a scurry to Number 10, a forced smile to the press – regardless of a promotion, demotion, or full-blown defenestration. As some ministers wait to know their fate, few would have woken up this morning and accurately guessed how the day would unfold. Before most had the chance to make a cup of coffee, Rishi Sunak had already rolled the dice on one of the greatest political gambles we’ve seen in recent years.

Westminster has been awash with reshuffle rumours since party conference season. With the Conservatives trailing heavily in the polls – and key events such as the Autumn Statement fast approaching – there was little doubt that Sunak would reshuffle his top team to prepare for the impending general election and once again attempt to reset his fortunes. Plus, with Suella Braverman’s controversial article in The Times critiquing the police without Number 10 approval, the Prime Minister seized his opportunity to stamp his authority on the government machine.

Braverman’s sacking would have no doubt stolen today’s broadsheet headlines if it weren’t for Sunak’s “dead cat strategy” – a Cabinet appointment leaving SW1 in total shock. Enter the stage – David Cameron. The former Prime Minister was this morning created a life peer in order to take up the position of Foreign Secretary, in an attempt to reclaim the centre ground from Labour.

The reshuffle of the great offices of state also raises serious policy dilemmas. The new Home Secretary, James Cleverly has publicly lobbied against Braverman’s decision to place 1,700 asylum seekers on the former RAF Wethersfield, a decision which will now fall under his remit – leaving the Government’s immigration policy here in a somewhat grey area. Meanwhile, only five weeks ago, Cameron was scathing in his criticism of Sunak’s decision to scrap HS2. Coupled with his own premiership denoting a period of closer ties between the UK and China – in stark contrast to this Government’s current position – most will watch with wonder as to how the Government will dutifully line up behind Sunak’s vision and reconcile its differences.

Elsewhere, Liz Truss’ ally and former Deputy Prime Minister Thérèse Coffey has been dismissed as Environment Secretary, while Conservative rising star Laura Trott has been appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Victoria Atkins will be tasked with attempting to cut NHS waiting lists in her new position as Health Secretary, with Steve Barclay taking on the top job at DEFRA. This reshuffle has so far been characterised by bringing Sunak’s friends and allies closer into the tent, while promoting fresh faces that will likely play well in the pre-election media rounds.

As the week continues, we will expect to see further changes at the junior ministerial level. That said, we’ve already had multiple resignations from those who aren’t contesting the next general election– veteran Schools Minister Nick Gibb has left the DfE while Colchester MP Will Quince has stepped down as Minister of State for Health, having announced in the summer his intention not to seek re-election. For others, it presents the chance to refocus their attention onto an electoral footing, doubling down efforts to shore up their slim constituency majorities.

But there will be little chance to dwell on the changes that are being made. Next week’s Autumn Statement will bring home to ministers the challenging fiscal framework they now must work in – and while Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is safe for now, he will be fully aware his day of judgement will come next Wednesday at the despatch box.

The show must go on. Nervous waits will continue, while a few glasses will be raised in quiet celebration amongst those who have climbed the greasy pole. Yet few things in politics are certain – David Cameron’s return emphasises that political destinies are never straight forward, and the stage is constantly set for a triumphant encore, or a crippling opening night.

Navigating the challenges: The EU’s to-do list ahead of the 2024 elections

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By Jessica BROBALD – Managing Director | Brussels, European Union

The curtains are soon to close on the term of the current European Commission, as we find ourselves less than a year away from its conclusion. Since taking office in 2019, the von der Leyen Commission has been nothing short of prolific, introducing over 600 initiatives, with more than 150 proposals still making their way through the legislative process. Now, as election season looms on the horizon, European institutions are rolling up their sleeves and preparing to tackle a slew of urgent issues, many of which have been further complicated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The recently published 2024 Commission work programme outlines 18 new potential initiatives and a handful of legislative proposals, many of which aimed at bringing the Green Deal ambitions to life. However, much work remains to be done to make this vision a reality.

The political landscape in the EU is anything but simple at the moment. The rise of extremism in several member states has created a complicated backdrop against which the bloc must navigate international crises and an energy crunch. This tense political climate could pave the way for a greater number of Eurosceptic MEPs in the upcoming European elections. This, in turn, could make it more difficult to pass certain files that are currently under scrutiny in parliament.

The 2019 European elections saw a surge in popularity for the Greens, and the European Commission has since been pushing forward with its ambitious Green Deal initiative. However, the upcoming elections could tell a different story. While the Green movement has certainly gained traction, there is a possibility that we may see fewer Green MEPs in the new parliament, and that the incoming Commission may not be as committed to environmental issues as the current one. Only time will tell how these complex dynamics will play out in the political arena, but one thing is for certain: the upcoming European elections will be a pivotal moment that shapes the future of the EU.

An advanced but unachieved Green Deal

The European Green Deal, which was the core of this Commission programme, is a groundbreaking initiative to transform the EU’s economy and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Legislative proposals have been approved, driving the growth of renewables, with wind and solar power outpacing gas in 2022. However, nuclear energy – championed by France – remains a central topic of debate in these discussions. With winter fast approaching, the EU is aiming for more energy independency and price stability to stave off European citizens’ fears of another energy crunch. Additionally, environmental and sustainability policies have been met with resistance, as seen in the contentious Nature Restoration Law and Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation currently being debated.

While an important part of the Green Deal has been finalised, many of this Commission’s flagship initiatives have yet to come to fruition. The 2024 Work Programme outlines plans to tackle air, water, and nature restoration issues. However, the EU has failed to fulfil its commitments to revise REACH, the chemical regulatory framework, animal welfare legislation, and to propose new legislation on Sustainable Food Systems. These issues are critical to the success of the European Green Deal and will now depend on the political orientation of the future European Commission. Environmental policy will likely remain high on the political agenda and be under the spotlight throughout the election campaign, although a Green Deal 2.0 is not expected under the new European Commission. Monitoring the Commissioner-designates’ hearings on these key topics will be crucial for stakeholders to plan ahead.

On the path to making Europe fit for the Digital Age

The emergence and popularisation of generative AI tools have led to delays in negotiations on the AI Act. While under pressure to reach an agreement before the elections, policymakers still have to overcome a few hurdles. One of the key issues being debated is the use of real-time biometric identification in public spaces. While the European Parliament is pushing for a complete ban on the practice, some member states are seeking exceptions for law enforcement purposes. As debates heat up in this area, it is likely that this topic will be up for discussion again on a regular basis, especially as technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace.

Although many files are expected to be finalized by the end of this parliamentary term, implementing these legislations, including the DSA and DMA, will require stakeholders’ full attention before and after the European elections. It’s important for us to stay informed and engaged with these developments to ensure that technology is being used responsibly and ethically.

Other policy issues on the Parliament and Commission’s to-do list before the elections

The EU is also currently reviewing EU legislation on pharmaceuticals. This revision is often seen as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a regulatory framework that is future-proof and crisis-resistant. This framework should ensure access to affordable medicines, foster innovation, improve the security of supply, and adapt to new scientific and technological developments while reducing red tape. However, it has sparked heated debates on pharmaceuticals’ environmental impact, as well as fair returns on investment for the industry’s R&D efforts. Although the dossier has been referred to the relevant EP Committees, it may take a while before negotiations on this issue are finalised. At the moment, it is uncertain whether the institutions will be able to produce a high-quality text in the limited time available for negotiations. The clock is ticking, and time is running out.

Budget Constraints: a source of tension before and after the European elections

The new European Commission will have to work with the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) defined for the 2021-2027 period. However, since the MFF was adopted, the world has been shaken by several crises. These include the war in the Ukraine, conflicts in the Middle East, and the ongoing energy crisis. As a result, the EU’s needs from 2024-onward may not line up with what has been budgeted. To address these challenges, the European Commission recently proposed an additional €66 billion to the bloc’s seven-year budget. However, with the rise of Euroscepticism, financing projects and policies that benefit the entire EU has become a complex task.

Conclusion

As the Commission and Parliament approach the end of this term, the Union is facing a multitude of complex challenges and a lengthy to-do list. The period leading up to the 2024 European Elections promises to be a critical and busy time. During this period, the EU will tackle a range of issues, from Ukraine’s potential accession to the regulation of AI, as well as enhancing EU energy sovereignty. The outcome of these endeavours will have significant implications for the EU’s future and its global standing.

The next Commission and Parliament will inherit a number of unresolved issues and will be responsible for managing and finalizing them while also setting their own priorities for the next five years.

Party conference season delivers anything but bread and butter politics

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Grayling UK FMCG Policy

Now that the dust has settled on party conference season, it would be remiss to say that FMCG policy was high up the agenda for either of the main two UK political parties. While HS2 dominated proceedings in Manchester, Labour Conference provided a platform for Kier Starmer to woo the business community during his Leader’s speech – albeit covered in (hopefully biodegradable) glitter. But there was very little by way of concrete policy for the sector to get its teeth into.

Perhaps it is to be expected that party conference season focuses on the big-ticket items for Sunak and Starmer as they seek to define their approach to the issues that will likely define the forthcoming election campaign – housing, energy, and transport, to name a few. Getting into the weeds of policies including Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), and restrictions to high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products might not be too palatable for businesses or voters still navigating a cost-of-living crisis.

In fact, Rishi Sunak’s surprise move to ban smoking for the next generation was the closest either party got to outlining an approach to FMCG policy, and even this announcement was directly linked to easing the cost burden on the NHS. A cynic might even suggest this could be a ‘legacy’ policy for a Prime Minister firmly against the ropes.

But just how much is the decision to kick the can down the road damaging progress? Continued government delays to waste reforms have left businesses millions of pounds out of pocket, whilst Labour’s lack of clarity on recycling and HFSS policy makes it difficult for the FMCG sector to develop marketing strategies and plan investments.

To focus in on food, it has been six months since Henry Dimbleby quit his position as the UK’s food tsar amidst anger at a lack of strategy from the government on health and diet. Dimbleby, though, remains a formidable force, and following Conservative Conference, criticised the government’s decision to prioritise smoking regulation over the growing obesity crisis.

It wouldn’t be controversial to say there has been a lack of ambition to develop a coherent, collaborative approach to food policy, with the current government using the guise that any intervention will amount to ‘nanny-state’ politicking. For now, it seems the Conservative Party is keen to brush any policies that could increase the cost of the average shopping basket under the rug, to avoid the potential voter backlash.

On the other hand, the Labour Party signalled a more interventionist approach to tackling the obesity crisis and, at its conference, major retailers lined up to voice their support for mandatory targets and legislation to tackle unhealthy food – arguing that a voluntary approach isn’t going far enough.

While Labour’s shadow public health minister Preet Gill told conference a new ‘health mission delivery board’ would be established as part of a crackdown on HFSS sales and advertising, there remains very little – to pardon the pun – meat on the bones of Labour’s policy proposals. Labour will be aware that backing Dimbleby’s sweeping reforms could risk accusations of putting further strain on the pockets of consumers, and as such, the party remains paralysed on this issue – on the one hand pushing manufacturers to go further to reformulate, and on the other, avoiding saying, well, anything at all really.

So, what about waste and recycling reforms? Both EPR and DRS remain firmly on the backburner while businesses seek to understand exactly how the reforms will work together. Consistent household collections – or ‘seven bins’ – has been villainised by the Prime Minister himself, despite a similar policy proving hugely successful in Wales.

Given how divisive these reforms have become – with DRS becoming the first skirmish of the Internal Market Act – it seems unlikely that the technicalities of food and packaging packing policy will come into the limelight before the election. For Labour, a lack of resource in Shadow Ministerial teams may mean policy cannot be fully formed until, and if, the party gets into government.

But still, as parties’ wargame their election strategies, it is crucial to engage with influencers across the political sphere to outline the technicalities and genuine business impacts of policies impacting the sector.

On HFSS it seems likely we’ll see a change in direction to a more interventionist approach once any new government is in post and has got past the election hurdle, whereas packaging policy remains an open door ahead of DRS and EPR ‘go live’ dates in October 2025. But we know there’s an ambition to do more to boost recyclability and reform the waste system, so what will come next? It’s critical to engage now, to help shape and scope the debate, before the future direction of policy travel becomes too far set in stone.

Polling should always be taken with a pinch of salt, but it seems increasingly likely the UK will welcome its first Labour Government in 15 years – so don’t be slow to forge those relationships. With Starmer’s new-look Labour Party there is a legitimate opportunity for businesses to engage in the policymaking process, and to highlight to positive initiatives underway in the FMCG sector – whether promoting healthier options, low-and-no alcohol alternatives, or innovative packing formats.

At Grayling, our specialist FMCG team is well-versed in navigating this complex and volatile policy landscape. We are proud to help organisations:

  • Target political influencers and media to highlight the need for a supportive policy framework.
  • Navigate a complicated regulatory environment, identifying risks and opportunities on the horizon.
  • Hero the positive consumer story to tell on sustainable diets and packaging, building brand affinity.

To speak with our dedicated FMCG team, please contact Michael Broughton via michael.broughton@grayling.com

Labour Party Conference: Focused on winning

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As the curtain closes on Labour Party Conference 2023 – possibly the last before the next general election – we look at the key themes that businesses should take away.

Last year’s gathering took place against a backdrop of that Liz Truss Budget and a government on the verge of collapse. Labour’s lead in the polls was in ‘crushing landslide’ territory and, perhaps for the first time, there was a real sense of expectation rather than hope. The atmosphere was verging on giddy.

Labour Party Conference 2023 was last year’s older, more mature sibling. The watchword was ‘focus’. Rumours abound that the Shadow Cabinet, backbenchers and PPCs were under strict instructions to limit their refreshments and avoid any potentially compromising situations. It seemed to work; everyone was on their best behaviour.

The message discipline was impressive, and the extensive courting of business by Labour over the last year appeared to have paid off. Businesses were there in their droves, causing some members to mutter that the atmosphere was overly corporate. Senior Labour staffers didn’t mind, though. This was by far the most lucrative conference for the party in recent years, providing an important boost to the coffers ahead of the next election.

In response to the Prime Minister’s backtracking on net zero targets and HS2, shadow ministers confidently and consistently argued for policy stability above all, even if that means making some difficult calls such as not revoking recently awarded oil and gas licenses. In emphasising the economic arguments for ambitious and stable decarbonisation targets to drive private investment, Labour impressed businesses and avoided the trap that Rishi Sunak set last week.

Conference appeared to be a crystalising moment in Labour’s offer to business: we’ll provide the structures, policy certainty and stable government; we expect you to partner with us to drive significant investment. In a “third way” moment that would have made Tony Blair proud, Keir Starmer presented this in his speech as “not state control, not pure free markets…but a genuine partnership”.

The speech, while perhaps not delivered with the same verve and punch as last year’s, presented a clearer vision than we had previously heard from Starmer. That vision is taking shape around the idea of “national renewal”. The central premise of his argument is that the UK is broken and entering an “age of insecurity”, where the forces of technology, economic weakness, movement of people, and climate change combine to demand a remodelling of the British state after 13 years of Conservative neglect.

This is not “sunlit uplands” by any means, more a sober diagnosis of the significant challenges that can be overcome with hard work – and a warning to the party faithful and the country that change will not happen overnight. There was a strong feeling amongst delegates that Labour needs to not just win the next election but win big and govern for at least 10 years.

The big ticket policy in the hour that Starmer spoke had been announced by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves the day before in her surprisingly tubthumping speech. Labour’s plans to radically overhaul the planning system for critical national infrastructure and building 1.5m new homes, including using development corporations to overcome barriers, sound bold and risky given how local objections can cause political headaches.

Alongside this, there was plenty for Labour’s core voters to get their teeth into, from VAT on private schools to the appointment of a Covid corruption commissioner. Naturally this wasn’t enough for some on the left of the party, who would have preferred less talk of fiscal discipline and more radical investment in public services.

But if the aim of the conference was to present the party as united, serious and ready to govern, then Starmer and his team will feel it is mission accomplished. However, while there was strictly no complacency from the party leadership, expectations of party members are running high. The pressure is now on to deliver the majority that they expect, for which winning in Scotland will be key. Anything less will surely be seen as an enormous missed opportunity.

To chat to the team about your organisation’s Public Affairs strategy, contact Alex Dismore at alex.dismore@grayling.com

2023 Spanish General Election

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By Javier CORRALES – Head of Public Affairs | Spain

Our Spanish public affairs team has prepared a detailed analysis of the 2023 Spanish General Election. The analysis allows you to discover the political takeaways from July 23rd, with surprising results that will have consequences in the Spanish socio-political arena.

The Popular Party (centre-right party) was the most voted list, although Pedro Sánchez (the current president from the centre-left party, PSOE) is emerging as the main candidate for the investiture. However, a repeat election is an option that cannot be ruled out either.

Click here to read the analysis in full.

Whisper it, but the Liberal Democrats might be back!

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In his closing speech to Lib Dem Conference, Leader Sir Ed Davey left no doubt that the party is confident in its ambition to chip away at the “Blue Wall” at next year’s general election. Davey’s upbeat message was reflected throughout the conference. Party members, lobbyists and journalists recognised that there is a cautious optimism, and crucially, the same, united aim of unseating Conservative MPs in seats where the Lib Dems came second the last time round.

In line with this mantra, this will be a more focused, realistic campaign than we’ve seen in recent electoral cycles. It’s a far cry from the overly ambitious language of the 2019 General Election, when Jo Swinson brazenly kicked off the campaign saying, “I can be the next PM”.  This time round, Davey’s slightly more modest speech saw no mention of winning the election, or even getting into government – and only a handful of mentions of the Labour Party.

On the back of impressive by-election wins, much of the Lib Dems’ hope is pinned on candidates in key target seats to continue the momentum, especially in some of the highest profile marginals. Many of these were the stars of the show at well-attended fringe events this year in Bournemouth. To pick out a few, it’s worth keeping an eye on Josh Babarinde in Eastbourne, Danny Chambers in Winchester, Monica Harding in Esher and Walton, and Max Wilkinson in Cheltenham – who could all be prominent voices in any future Lib Dem parliamentary party.

Businesses also seemed to have got the message that the Lib Dems are back on the map. On Monday, the Lib Dems hosted a reception to conclude their full programme of Business Day events, with Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper addressing a packed room of at least 200 people. Some of the UK’s largest businesses were well represented on the exhibition floor – a marked shift from Lib Dem conferences of recent years. This felt like a clear sign that the party is being taken seriously once again, and the Lib Dem leadership is ready to engage.

The speeches in the conference hall suggest that this is a party that has already decided its policy platform for the next election. It’s all about health, the environment, and the cost of living – and we’ll hear these key themes being played out repeatedly in the coming months. The voters the Lib Dems are targeting are predominantly based across the South East and South West – and any election pledges will need to cut through with this demographic in the Blue Wall.

With the party well and truly in election preparation mode, and with realistic chances of gaining seats, it’s crucial for businesses to engage with the Lib Dems, and to align their policy proposals to the party’s own electoral priorities, to ensure that their voice is heard in the debate.

Clearly the election campaign will not be without its challenges for the party. Much like any other political party, the Lib Dems are not immune to internal wranglings on core policy issues, whether that’s housing or local environment issues, or disagreement over national infrastructure priorities. Plus, the real elephant in the room – the unresolved question of Europe, will likely be foremost in party members’ minds.

During Davey’s speech, the loudest round of applause by some margin was for his warm words on the EU – promising conference the Lib Dems would fix the UK’s “broken relationship” with Europe. Yet with no mention of re-joining, or new announcements on what this future relationship might look like, many members won’t be convinced.

On a lighter note, Lib Dem conference is renowned for its social events, and eager conference delegates were not disappointed this year. True to style, there was a huge queue of attendees eager to get into the headline karaoke night on Sunday, followed by “glee club” on Monday. Irrespective of what you might read in Politico, the media team were kept busy by a stream of journalists looking to experience a Lib Dem night out, and it’s fair to say that the party enjoyed its moment in the sun.

Discos, party policy debates and being capsized in his kayak aside (yes, that really did happen), Ed Davey can be happy with a relatively smooth conference, and with his key messages widely reported by a renewed interest from the national media. The party will now go away to hone those policy positions as the election race heats up, with its first test in the upcoming Mid Bedfordshire by-election next month.

To chat to the team about your organisation’s Lib Dem engagement programme, contact Alexis King via: alexis.king@grayling.com

Conservative Conference: “It is time for a change”. But to what?

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Well, that’s a wrap on Conservative Conference – quite possibly the last before the General Election. Could the Conservatives be in Opposition by the time they meet again in Birmingham this time next year?

Despite the election clock ticking down, with a maximum of 15 months to go, this didn’t feel like a Government setting out a bold pitch for their next term in office. The general consensus on the ground in Manchester was that, frankly, they’ve run out of ideas. Instead, the airwaves were dominated all week by a sticky conversation on HS2, with very few fresh policy announcements to distract from the controversial decision to scrap the previously planned HS2 Manchester line.

Could the Leader’s speech turn things around? Well, he packed in a few announcements on redirecting HS2 funding into transport projects in the North and Midlands, re-writing the post-16 education system, restricting cigarette sales, and extending sentences for serious crimes. But this all just felt a little bit piecemeal, and perhaps disjointed from the wedge issues that are likely to be forefront of voters’ minds as they head to the polls next year. We didn’t hear so much concrete policy-making on the cost of living, reversing the gloomy economic outlook, or the state of the health service. Realistically, there’s just very little parliamentary time to get anything done in the next year, but that’s not the most inspiring message for Conservative members to take home with them.

“It is time for a change”, the Prime Minister brazenly stated. This feels a bit of a communications misstep – but he’s right, it’s how his party feels. After a year of the Sunak administration, they’re just not convinced what he stands for, and how he’s going to turn this ship around.

This reflects the chatter amongst party members and Members of Parliament in the bars and on the reception circuit. On the whole, they think the Prime Minister is missing a trick to really shake things up and communicate a clear vision for how he’s tangibly going to achieve his ‘5 priorities’. And there’s a quiet acceptance that the electoral odds are stacked against him, if we’re being honest.

So, on the fringes, instead of a heated debate about the legislative platform for the year ahead, or general election strategising, this felt more like a future-gazing Conference. The real question to be answered was: “why are we Conservatives and what do we stand for? What do we actually think? And who will we become if we have to rebuild from an election defeat?”

Yet, there’s no easy answer here. This year’s Conservative Conference was plagued by factionalism, with different splinter groups from the New Conservatives to the Conservative Democratic Organisation setting out their stall for a different Conservative vision, and a not-so-subtle launch of the next leadership contest – which has already begun, albeit informally.

This dominated proceedings, with a huge snaking queue of party members waiting to hear from Liz Truss at her ‘Rally for Growth’. The former Prime Minister was out in force stirring the pot, stealing the limelight from Rishi Sunak, and returning the favour from last year’s Conference where Team Rishi did what they could to give her the boot from office. But it wasn’t just Truss on manoeuvres, with Nigel Farage parading around the Conference centre with gleeful energy at the prospect of stirring up a rebellion, and being met by a swarm of supporters wherever he went. The uprising may not be imminent, but the battle lines have been drawn for the right-wing of the Conservative Party to ‘take back control’, so to speak, if the guard changes post-election.

That said, there’s by no means a universal consensus, leaving things feeling fairly muddled – and creating a real chasm between the different wings of the party. The Sunak camp seemed pretty happy with how things were going, with heartened supporters referencing the (seemingly fairly rogue) Opinium poll putting the Conservatives just 10 points behind Labour. They think Keir Starmer has a long way to go if he wants to actually secure a majority, and that he’s currently just relying on the Government making its own mistakes rather than having a strong alternative platform.

Overall, the Prime Minister’s team think they got away with it. If we’re benchmarking against previous conferences, this was definitely an improvement on the funerial atmosphere in 2022. Plus, Business Day attendees actually got their dessert at dinner this year, so the party machine can call that a small win.

So, what’s next? In a twist in timetabling to the usual format, Labour Conference is still to go, so the real question is whether Starmer can consolidate his poll lead, and successfully articulate his own vision for the economy. Whatever the conjecture at Conservative Conference this week, Labour Party members will no doubt be heading to Liverpool with a spring in their step, and eyes firmly on the prize of electoral victory.

To chat to the team about your organisation’s Public Affairs strategy, contact Victoria Murphy via: victoria.murphy@grayling.com