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From education, education, education to build, build, build

12 October 2023
Public Affairs
labour party conference

In 1996, “education, education, education” was how former Prime Minister Tony Blair set out his priorities for office which saw him go onto deliver a landscape victory at the 1997 general election. Fast forward to the present day, it seems Sir Keir Starmer’s hopes of returning Labour to power for the first time in 13 years will be founded on build, build, build.  

Delivering a glittering speech – pardon the pun - the Labour leader pledged to get Britain building again and deliver 1.5 million new homes during the five years of the next Parliament. To achieve this, he said the party would “bulldoze through” a planning system that was “an obstacle to the aspirations of millions”; fast-track brownfield developments; build a generation of ‘new towns’; and hand mayors greater housing and planning powers. This promise was especially notable given its omission from Labour’s five missions unveiled earlier this year. 

While giving more power to local communities and decision makers will be a key theme of a potential Labour government, with the opposition party promising a “take back control” bill within in its first term, it appears they will be taking a more central approach to avoid the continuation of NIMBYISM seen under the Conservative government. Speaking to the BBC, Starmer admitted that developers could ignore local planning objections to get more houses built. He also told Times Radio that he will “get tough” with Labour MPs who oppose new housing in their own constituency.  

With concerns that Labour’s housebuilding plans would override local democratic processes, others have raised questions about how this will impact the environment. Whilst campaigners and green groups have been broadly supportive of the party’s proposals, some have called for more detail on the plans due to phrases such as “net zero”, “climate”, and “low carbon” not being mentioned when the party has discussed their housing policy  – thereby making it unclear as to whether the new homes will have to be fitted with solar panels, heats pump, and high quality insulation.  

Although there was minimal focus on home decarbonisation, the party made it clear that it would not be adopting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s “new approach” to net zero. Starmer promised to “speed ahead” with their green investment plans, and Shadow Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Ed Miliband, vowed to introduce a new Energy Independence Act. The bill would establish Great British (GB) Energy - Labour’s plan to create a new, publicly owned clean energy company - and aim to introduce the reforms needed to make the UK electricity system fully based on clean power by 2030.  

Part of these reforms include their plans to “rewire Britain” to help solve one of the biggest problems facing the energy industry: the grid. Labour announced that “rewire Britain” will remove the barriers to grid connection, open up new grid construction to competitive tendering, and get GB energy to work in coordinating the transition.  For many renewable energy companies, this will be music to their ears and could be crucial in securing green investment into the UK. However, the Labour Party is not alone in identifying this as an issue. Sunak announced that the government would “end the first-come-first-served approach” to grid connections during his net zero speech last month. 

Other green industry announcements included the party revealing its first sector deal for the automotive industry. Labour promised planning priority for new battery factories, reliable electric car charging infrastructure everywhere, and critical mineral trade partnerships.  

Elsewhere, the party unveiled tougher regulations on ‘bad actors’. Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, passionately declared that a Labour government would “come down like a ton of bricks” on the vaping industry to stop a generation of children becoming addicted to nicotine. Whilst Shadow Environment Secretary, Steve Reed, outlined plans to empower regulators to ban bonuses to water bosses whose firms pumps excess sewage into rivers, as well as strengthen fines and powers to prosecute their leaders.  

As party conference season draws to a close, the missions led approach by the Shadow Cabinet stood in contrast to Rishi Sunak’s attempt to claim the wedges issues such as the plan for drivers in the wake of ULEZ.  Despite the light policy content, the new YIMBY approach, promising to build more houses, could arguably be one that finally convinces voters that Labour has what it takes to tackle the biggest challenges of the day.