Cheery, expectant, yet uncomplacent: Britain’s Labour activists were in buoyant mood at the party’s annual gathering Monday as they sense a return to power in an election expected next year.
“Cautious optimism,” said local official Alan Bullion, when asked to describe the vibe at the much-anticipated, four-day conference in the northwestern English city of Liverpool.
“Nobody’s taking anything for granted but we’re on the up. The name of the game is to get rid of the Tories and get back in government,” the 67-year-old Labour councillor told AFP.
The meeting comes with the centre-left party enjoying double-digit leads in most opinion polls and seemingly on the cusp of returning to power after 13 years of Conservative rule.
Leader Keir Starmer has moved Labour back to the middle ground following the disastrous and divided leadership of socialist Jeremy Corbyn, which saw the party trounced at the last election in 2019.
Starmer has the party dreaming again of regaining the keys to 10 Downing Street in a general election that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak must call by January 2025 at the very latest.
Activists said the buzz at the yearly get-together, in which lawmakers mingle with party members and interests from British business and the charity sector, was the best it had been in years.
“There’s an air of confidence,” said a bullish Matt Shiels.
“We know now a Labour government is on the way,” the 21-year-old student told AFP.
Delegates chatted excitedly and jostled for space around screens as they strained their necks to listen to shadow finance minister Rachel Reeves deliver the keynote speech of the day.
In it, she declared that power was “finally within our grasp”.
“I’m surprised by how busy it is,” said 19-year-old party member Millie Wood who was attending her first conference.
“It’s energetic. We know we’re going to do well, we are doing well. It’s just a really good atmosphere,” she told AFP.
Starmer has been accused of failing to lay out a clear vision for the country, with critics saying Labour’s lead is largely down to chaotic Conservative rule and a cost-of-living crisis.
Labour Party member Shiels praised Starmer’s cautious approach but said he was hoping to hear bold proposals on student finance when the leader addresses the conference on Tuesday.
“We’ve had enough chaos,” said Shiels, citing the five prime ministers the Conservatives have had since taking power in 2010.
“Lay the foundations and on that you can build more exciting policy in the future but right now we’ve just got to fix those foundations,” he added.
Bullion, the Labour councillor, cautioned members against getting too carried away.
Former leader Neil Kinnock infamously held a triumphalist rally a week before the 1992 general election with Labour ahead in the polls, only to lose the vote.
But Bullion added that many among the party’s grassroots felt impatient to get to the polls, when it could be another 15 months before the vote.
“Most people are optimistic, but they also want to get on with the job. We’re all very, very anxious to have a general election now,” he said.