There’s one similarity between the Conservative and Labour Party conferences and that’s the Sainsbury’s stand. Besides the business and charity banners, the events could not have been more different. Labour: campaign groups, voting cards and bad food. Conservative: big business, British flags and Champagne.
Other things that couldn’t be less alike are Keir Starmer and Liz Truss. Calm and collected versus confused and scrappy. Measured but dull versus radically reckless. These are my words, but general polling shows that this may be particularly generous.
According to a poll by JL Partners, the top words used to describe Truss this week are “incompetent”, “untrustworthy” and “idiot”. A far cry from two weeks ago when it was “determined”, “strong” and “competent”.
Liz Truss is a testament to the power of words. A self-proclaimed ‘mini-budget’ turned the sixth biggest economy on its head within a matter of days. Its impact on the markets was seismic – its impact on people’s lives could be devastating.
But it’s wrong to say that Truss’ team has just a comms problem. The buck on the mini-budget must stop with the PM. The policy is rotten and therefore so were the communications. How the mini-budget was handled has inflamed the situation. A lack of detail and post-announcement engagement from its architects fuelled a whirlpool of demise that the PM and Chancellor cannot catch a breath from.
But unlike other Tory scandals, there is simply no way to dismiss this story. Mortgages withdrawn and the pound tanking can be directly linked to the leader’s decisions.
The public’s anger has been channelled by the very best in political journalism. Sky’s Beth Rigby served Truss’ abysmal 18-day record to her in a cutthroat conference interview. Nothing Truss says will save her. No one speech, slogan, or press conference.
Instead, by the next election, the country needs to not only see economic growth but feel it. The PM’s plan for growth needs to actually work. This is a big ask in two years and an even bigger ask of a Government that has already demonstrated an incredible lack of strategic thinking.
Against this backdrop, the mood at CPC22 was a mixture of concern, dismay and hardcore loyalist jubilance.
In contrast, Lab22 was on the up. “It’s not felt like this for years.” Corbyn a distant nightmare, the feeling that Labour could win is back. In the confidence game that is politics, that surging feeling can be canned and translated to power. Confidence plays a major role in communication and it showed with Starmer. For the first time in his leadership, his demeanour portrayed PM material.
Despite this, Labour struggled to cut through on to the front pages. OK, a lot was going on, but the Opposition, especially when it’s the Labour Party, has to work and woo the media to ensure the exposure. This will be a critical test for Starmer as he looks to build his proposition as Government-in-waiting.
Starmer has the composure and plan, but does he have the charisma? The popularity of the Labour Party among the general public now rests on his ability to tell a compelling story.
Hannah Barlow is co-founder of BB Partners.