But Labour leader Keir Starmer is under pressure to set out his vision for the country
Labour leader Keir Starmer is under pressure to set out his vision for the country. AFP News

The Labour Party conference enters its third day today, with speeches expected from leader Keir Starmer, as well as frontbenchers Yvette Cooper and Emily Thornberry.

Taking place in Liverpool, the Party's annual gathering has a different feeling this year, as the opposition senses a return to power is closer than ever.

"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.

Last week, the party defeated the SNP to win the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election by a landslide margin.

The party's candidate, Michael Shanks, took the Westminster seat with 17,845 votes – more than double the number polled by the SNP's Katy Loudon. The result marked a swing of 20.4 per cent from the SNP to Labour.

Yesterday, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves addressed the crowd of Labour supporters, claiming she would be the "iron" chancellor who would help rebuild Britain after 13 years of Conservative rule.

In a conference speech with few new policy announcements, the shadow chancellor outlined her version of Bidenesque economic nationalism that would grow the economy "from the bottom up and the middle out" in the interests of working people.

And in a coup for Labour, Mark Carney, the former Bank of England governor who was appointed by the former Conservative chancellor George Osborne in 2013, endorsed Reeves, saying it was "beyond time" her ideas were put into action.

"Labour will fight the next election on the economy" Reeves declared, pledging to "wage a war" against fraud, waste and inefficiency.

"A Labour government would slash government spending on consultants", she said, which has almost quadrupled in six years, "raising about £1.4 billion by bringing in new rules requiring departments to make the value-for-money case."

Interest rates have been rising consistently since 2021, in an attempt to combat inflation, and are currently at their highest level for 15 years.

Sunak promised at the start of the year that he would "halve inflation"; it would have to fall to about 5.3 per cent in December to meet that target.

In March, he unveiled a budget aimed at tackling a cost-of-living crisis — which has sparked strikes as many wages fail to keep pace.

The past year, soaring prices have caused a cost-of-living crisis to run rampant across the UK, with rising food and energy bills contributing to record-breaking inflation levels.

At the Conservative Party conference last week, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt vowed to reinvigorate the economy by cracking down on benefits "shirkers" and shrinking the size of the civil service.

But Hunt refused to commit to slashing rates ahead of next year's general election, to the bitter disappointment of backbench Conservative MPs.

Reeves also announced her intention to create a powerful Covid corruption commissioner to help recoup about £2.6 billion of taxpayers' money that has been lost to waste, fraud and flawed contracts during the pandemic.

An inquiry into the Government's handling of the Covid pandemic is already taking place, ordered by the government itself in 2021. It has recently ordered the government to hand over key communications sent between January 2020 and February 2022.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has failed to provide his WhatsApp messages to the inquiry committee, which he was supposed to hand over during his time as chancellor.

In his headline speech last week, Sunak announced the long-rumoured decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2.

Rumours of this decision have dominated much of the Tory Conference, overshadowing other policy announcements from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

Today, party leader Keir Starmer will address the conference around 2 p.m., in a speech where he is expected to lay out a "decade of national renewal" – suggesting he is aiming for at least two terms in office.

According to sources, he will also pledge extra powers for local mayors and to build the "next generation of new towns" near English cities.

Israel Hamas missiles
Residents inspect the damage to their building in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on October 9, 2023, after it was hit during the night by a rocket from the Gaza Strip. AFP/Menahem KAHANA

However, in the build-up to his crucial speech, he faced an unprecedented international crisis - the Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7th.

The Islamist militant movement launched a series of coordinated terror attacks in the heart of Israel, prompting President Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately declare war on the group.

Today, Israel launched an extensive attack "against terror targets in Gaza", despite warnings from the UN human rights chief against harm to civilians.

Commenting on the situation, Starmer said there can be "no justification" for Hamas' operation that has left at least 600 dead, including a British man serving in the Israeli army.

"Labour stands firmly in support of Israel's right to defend itself, rescue hostages​ and protect its citizens," he said in a statement.

"The indiscriminate attacks from Hamas are unjustifiable and have set back the cause of peace."

It remains to be seen whether Starmer will address the developing situation in his speech again later today.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that the UK will lend intelligence or security support to Israel if it is asked for help.