Wednesday morning at Labour conference is back to being the graveyard shift, with the delegates who are still there nursing hangovers and sharing videos of the speakers on the stage doing karaoke the night before. But this morning’s session covered two of the most important public services from two of the party’s rising stars – Wes Streeting and Bridget Phillipson.
Streeting is everywhere (including in the karaoke videos), and some of his colleagues are a bit irritated that he seems to have been anointed as the next Labour leader. Phillipson, though, is the one to watch because she unnerves the Conservatives and is applauded for being tough in her education brief. She has faced down the vested interests, such as calls for a big new school-building programme. She had a tangible retail offer in today’s speech, pledging that the ‘first step’ in a modern childcare system would be breakfast clubs for every child in every primary school. The purpose of this would be to ‘give mums and dads choices’ about working and also to ‘drive up standards and achievement’. Given the dire state of the childcare sector at the moment (families spend more on nursery than housing costs), it’s a very small first step.
Streeting, meanwhile, was in the gravest of the graveyard slots this morning, as the first shadow cabinet speaker. He was followed by a curious warm-up act of delegates complaining about lighting in the hall. One delegate demanded the record be corrected because they were the only person to vote against a motion that was described as ‘unanimous’.
Streeting’s speech didn’t look inwards. It didn’t bang on about so-called NHS ‘privatisation’ (which isn’t happening). Instead, the shadow health secretary promised to be the ‘shop steward for patients’, and insisted that ‘if we don’t modernise and change the NHS, it will become unsustainable’.