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By Frank McKenna

By Frank McKenna

That was a week (and a half) that was

Frank McKenna attended high-level functions with both Labour and Conservative politicians this week – and he found both parties in good spirits.

There is never a dull moment at Downtown in Business, but the past ten days have been particularly hectic.

We hosted a few events, one in Lancashire with the former chief executive of Manchester City Council Sir Howard Bernstein, a social networking gathering at the excellent Townhouse Hotel in Chester, and a ‘summer showcase’ with the City of Wolverhampton Council, which bookended a reception in London with the shadow cabinet, and a Conservative Party Northern conference in Doncaster.

To the opposition ‘do’ first. Labour has a spring in its step again. Attending functions with Labour MPs since 2009 has usually been a sombre affair.

As much as Gordon Browns ministers and Ed Milibands shadow team would try to convince you that they could win the next General Election, you could tell they had not even convinced themselves. From 2015 up until the humiliation that was 2020, you would have had to be living on another planet (and some of the leaders followers were) to think that Jeremy Corbyn had any chance of becoming prime minister.

So, it was refreshing to feel a sense of hope and opportunity in a Labour room, where Keir Starmer came, hot-foot from PMQs, to deliver a rallying cry, of sorts, to the troops. I say ‘of sorts’ because Starmer is not really a ‘rallier’. He is thoughtful, careful with his words, and a persuader rather than a motivator.

Nonetheless, given the state of the organisation he inherited, the fact that he was locked down for a year, unable to properly campaign, and the unfortunate but necessary reality that he had to broadly support the government on both the pandemic and the Ukrainian conflict, then I think he has done a solid job.

Certainly, those in the room at the UNISON offices in Euston Road, were in ‘glass half-full’ mood – and in comparison, to where Labour was just two years ago, that is no mean feat.

Up in Doncaster, and despite party-gate, the economy tanking, the cost-of-living crisis, and whatever drama its leader throws at it next (and we all know there will be another one soon), delegates had a spring in their step too and have a confidence that they will prevail at the next General Election.      

It was unfortunate that the prime minister’s no-show overshadowed a fascinating day of debate and discussion at the conference.

Along with a dozen other business leaders, I was invited to participate in the event that focused on levelling up and devolution.

Former Northern Powerhouse minister and Rossendale MP Jake Berry gave a rousing and wide-ranging speech, arguing for fiscal freedoms for mayors, more investment into vocational education (Voxbridge) and more investment into the region’s infrastructure. DIB’s political correspondent JIM HANCOCK offers a more comprehensive report on Berry’s ideas HERE.

In the absence of Boris Johnson event organisers put Tom Tugendhat on the main stage to throw some red meat at the red wall delegates. In a thinly veiled leadership bid, the Kent MP called for cuts in fuel duties and VAT, and greater support for business to get the economy moving.

If I was a Tory, I think that message might have more of an appeal than the ‘patchwork quilt’ approach to the economy that Johnson and his chancellor Rishi Sunak appear to have adopted.

You can read reports from the Sir Howard event HERE, the Wolverhampton event HERE, and the Cheshire Connects event HERE.

Downtown in Business