New Statesman events at Labour conference 2013

What to look out for in Brighton, including events with Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves, Andy Burnham, Sadiq Khan, Diane Abbott and Lord Adonis.

All events are free to attend and open to the public.

Sunday 22 September

Chuka Umunna MP in conversation with New Statesman

Chuka Umunna MP, Shadow Business Secretary

12:30-1:30pm, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel

Diane Abbott MP in conversation with New Statesman

Diane Abbott MP, Shadow Public Health Minister

2-3pm, Wordsworth room, Thistle Hotel

Why invest in UK life sciences?

Shabanna Mahmood MP, Shadow Science and Higher Education Minister

5:30-6pm, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel

Smart Grids: Is this the way of selling low carbon policies to sceptics?

Tom Greatex MP, Shadow Energy and Climate Change Minister

5:30-6:30pm, Wordsworth room, Thistle Hotel

Home Front: The battle for a sustainable housing market

(invite only)

Jack Dromey MP, Shadow Housing Minister

8-9:30pm, Hall 7 Room D, The Hilton

Monday 23 September

What next for the criminal justice system?

Rt. Hon Sadiq Khan MP, Shadow Lord Chancellor, Shadow Justice Secretary and Shadow London Minister

9-10am, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel

Where now for aid to Syria and what role for Britain?

Rushanara Ali MP, Shadow International Development Minister

5:30-6:30pm, The Sandringham room, The Hilton

Could aid be effective without advocacy?

Cathy Jamieson MP, Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Rt. Hon Peter Hain MP

5:30-7pm, Wordsworth room, Thistle Hotel

Jobs for young people: how do we solve the problem?

Lord Adonis, Shadow Infrastructure Minister and former Transport Secretary

5:30-6:30pm, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel

Rachel Reeves MP in conversation with New Statesman

Rachel Reeves MP, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

7:15-8pm, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel

Tuesday 24 September

Innovation: what does the NHS need to do?

Andrew Gynne MP, Shadow Health Minister

8:30-9:30am, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel

Is integration enough to save the NHS?

Rt. Hon Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Health Secretary

12-1pm, Wordsworth room, Thistle Hotel

Will competition and choice open up the banking sector?

Chris Leslie MP, Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury

4:45-5:45pm, Wordsworth room, Thistle Hotel

Is a cap on immigration a cap on growth?

Chris Bryant MP, Shadow Immigration Minister

5:30-6:30pm, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel

Wednesday 25 September

From prevention to survival: the cancer pathway at every step

Lord Hunt, Shadow Health Spokesperson

9-10am, Tennyson room, Thistle Hotel

A workman fixes a Labour Party Conference banner to a fence outside the conference centre on September 21, 2013 in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.