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Paul Groves reviews the political policies that will affect construction

The stage management of political party conferences is not exactly a new phenomenon in this country.

The slick, carefully designed showcase stops short of people standing in the aisles with “Clap Now” or “Standing Ovation Now” and even “Laugh A Little Too Hard Now” cue cards for the audience, but there is an orchestration that even the most accomplished conductor would admire.

So, in recent years particularly, the conferences are rarely good barometers of clear and concise political policy.

They are more akin to a popularity contest to see just how well the party leaders are doing with their own supporters.

But with a General Election looming in 2024 and the various internal machinations and divisions we have seen since 2020 (and maybe even earlier than that) the popularity contest came with a bit of extra spice this time around.

Quite what this all means for the average voter will only be clear come polling day itself.

Paul Groves Paul Groves Editor of Specification magazine

A glittering display

As well as proving he is capable of uniting his Conservative party considering the multitude of differences it faces, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was given a platform to provide evidence of what he actually stands for and the policy direction he plans to take for the first time since he became the latest person to inherit the keys to No.10 since the last General Election.

Equally, Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer was looking to shore up his own support and create a clearer picture in the eyes of the electorate, and arguably more importantly the mainstream media, of what a serious-minded and skilled politician he is.

The Liberal Democrats also held their own party conference, of course.

But it was probably Sir Kier Starmer who emerged as the conference season’s shining star – and not just for the obvious reason of being showered in glitter by a stage invader who was protesting against…well, no-one seems 100% sure of what the protest was about.

That uncertainty prompted some to question whether the “invasion” was another carefully stage-managed moment to show a Labour leader who can literally brush off such distractions and deliver a passionate and statesmanlike performance.

I enjoy a conspiracy theory as much as the next person, but I can’t see the glitter protest as a piece of inspired The Thick of It-style smoke and mirrors – then again, maybe that is what they want me to think?


Back to the conferences and popularity contests aside, we did get a tantalising glimpse of policy in both Manchester and Liverpool.

And it was housing and construction – those familiar political footballs of recent years – that came to the fore.

In particular the “we’re going to build more houses than you” debate was brought to life at the conference, with both the PM and Labour leader highlighting their plans for housebuilding and constriction. Or, as one observer put it, the NIMBY vs YIMBY question.

Are we any clearer of what a Rishi Sunak-led Conservative government will do moving forward, or what exactly a new Labour-led administration will enact to boost the country’s housebuilding and wider construction industries?

Yes, a little. Which in the context of party conferences is significant progress.

A focus on housing?

Although the main headlines of Rishi Sunak’s speech focused on the fate of HS2 and the scrapping of the leg from Birmingham to Manchester, smoking bans and A-Level reforms, there was clear commitment in other policy areas.

Housing was mentioned with somewhat guarded language, but it was the implications of environmental policy and how that translates to housing and construction which did catch the eye.

Despite the efforts of construction industry to move quickly towards Net Zero, the PM bowed to lobbying from some quarters to dilute some of the programmes and initiatives that construction has already started working towards.

The scrapping of several Net Zero policies has drawn criticism from key stakeholders and the Government’s own environmental watchdog, the Climate Change Committee. Whether it is actually a vote winner with the average person in the street is one of the big unknowns, so to that extent it is a political gamble that has left many scratching their heads.

There are positive signs that the Conservatives will focus on housing with a few pre-conference announcements, but it still appears Rishi Sunak sees priorities elsewhere.

The words of Professor Piers Forster, Chair of the Climate Change Committee, may haunt the PM after the election: “Our position as a global leader on climate has come under renewed scrutiny following the Prime Minister’s speech. We urge the Government to restate strong British leadership on climate change in the crucial period before the next climate summit, COP28 in Dubai.”


In contrast, the Labour leader presented himself as wanting to rebuild the country, the economy and the all-important construction industry.

He put a significant reform of the planning system as a key policy to stimulate construction growth and signalled his party’s intention to make more land available for development.

The Labour leader referenced the “grey belt”, which wasn’t in relation to his fashion sense but rather a commitment to building on both brownfield sites and green belt land.

As some commented, planning reform alone will not be enough to kick-start his grand plan but would likely provide a boost to the supply-side, allowing for more homes to be built in the areas that need them most. It will, he maintained, also tackle those MPs who lobby to block development within their constituencies rather than support schemes to stimulate growth.

Overall, the Labour leader’ performance and commitments presented a more positive picture for many within the industry.

Rico Wojtulewicz, Head of Housing and Planning Policy at the HBA and NFB, said: “With a general election around the corner, the Conservatives have given Labour a unique opportunity to prove they are ready to govern.

“The signs are there that they understand what needs to be done but as a nation, we have been here before. Here is hoping that Labour takes the chance to lead where the Conservatives have decided not to, rather than succumb to the lure of performance for self-preservation’s sake.”

Building even more

With the Liberal Democrats using their party conference to announce the most ambitious targets out of the major parties, promising 380,000 homes a year if elected, housebuilding and construction could well become a key battle ground for the next election.

The Liberal Democrats could ultimately help determine the outcome, securing key seats from Conservatives and helping to deliver a Labour majority.

Quite what this all means for the average voter will only be clear come polling day itself.

But the main influencers in the mainstream media certainly regarded the Labour leader’s performance as a “Prime Minister in Waiting” delivery, compared to the somewhat hesitant and uncertain picture still being presented by Rishi Sunak.

All that glitters may well turn to political gold at the next General Election.

Paul Groves Editor of Specification magazine