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What to expect from the Labour Party Conference

  • Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party succeeded in dislodging the Conservatives' parliamentary majority on June 8, confounding predictions that it would suffer heavy losses in the vote.
  • Labour and the Conservatives are now roughly neck-and-neck in the polls, according to the latest surveys from YouGov and ICM.
  • The Labour Party Conference will take place at the seaside resort of Brighton from September 24-27.
Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North and candidate in the Labour Party leadership election, speaks to supporters outside Great St Mary's church on September 6, 2015 in Cambridge, England.
Rob Stothard | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North and candidate in the Labour Party leadership election, speaks to supporters outside Great St Mary's church on September 6, 2015 in Cambridge, England.

One of Europe's largest political gatherings will take place in the British seaside town of Brighton this weekend, with analysts keeping an ear out for any major noises coming from a resurgent opposition Labour party that defied the critics at this year's general election.

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party succeeded in dislodging the Conservatives' parliamentary majority on June 8, confounding predictions that it would suffer heavy losses in the vote. Labour and the Conservatives are now roughly neck-and-neck in the polls, according to the latest surveys from research firms YouGov and ICM.

Allen Simpson, the chief operating officer of the networking group Labour in the City, suggests the party's surge in support is prompting the corporate world to pay closer attention to its policy agenda. He told CNBC in an email: "Businesses are increasingly seeing a Labour government as an immediate term probability."

However, far from all commentators believe investors need to start factoring in a Labour election victory into their near-term forecasts. Kallum Pickering, senior U.K. economist at Berenberg, says the Conservative Party conference is more of a focus for markets than the Labour Party equivalent.

But he added that Labour's gathering in Brighton is worth following in case it throws up any policy surprises.

So with Britain's two main political parties roughly level in the polls, and with the prospect of another snap election looming, here's a roundup of what to expect from the 2017 Labour Party conference.

Brexit battles

Brexit is set to top the agenda in Brighton, as Labour MPs (members of parliament) work to crystallize a unified position on the issue.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer announced last month that a Labour government would keep the U.K. within the EU single market for a transitional period after Britain's departure from the European Union.

The policy update was broadly welcomed by the party's MPs. However, new battle lines are now being drawn over the timespan of this transitional period.

A number of Labour lawmakers, including Alison McGovern and Stella Creasy, are campaigning for the U.K. to remain in the single market indefinitely after Brexit.

However, this proposal runs in the face of Labour's 2017 manifesto which stated: "Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union. Britain's immigration system will change."

The EU has repeatedly warned that Britain can't retain single market membership while restricting the free movement of European citizens.

Any policy which maintains the country's immigration system in its current form without introducing additional protections for U.K. workers is likely to be challenged by the Labour Party's union backers.

It will become clear just how divided the party is over the issue of post-Brexit immigration when the topic is debated on the conference floor.

But it won't just be Labour members voicing their thoughts on Brexit. Pro-EU groups are also planning on demonstrating outside the conference center in Brighton as part of a wider series of protests dubbed "The Autumn of Discontent."

Election strategising

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned his supporters to prepare for a snap election when he addressed his party's conference in 2016 and he is likely to do the same this time around.

Corbyn is due to deliver his keynote speech at this year's conference on Wednesday September 27 at around midday. Berenberg 's Pickering suggests it will be worth scrutinizing the Labour leader's address.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks about Labour's plan for Brexit on January 10, 2017 in Peterborough, England.
Leon Neal | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks about Labour's plan for Brexit on January 10, 2017 in Peterborough, England.

"It will be interesting to see whether Jeremy Corbyn goes even further left versus his manifesto in the election and whether Theresa May does the same."

Allen Simpson, the COO of Labour in the City, doesn't see the Labour Party deviating too far from its existing course.

"I'm not expecting huge announcements in Brighton, but we should see more clarity about the difference between Labour and the government on a range of issues," he said.

Meanwhile Andy Price, the head of politics at Sheffield Hallam University, believes the party has limited room for manoeuver.

"The Labour leadership and their strategists will be keen to return to the very popular policies they outlined in the election manifesto, but the narrative will be dominated by how they can afford these policies. The worsening economic outlook and the impact of Brexit is a fatal blow to any hopes of making these manifesto pledges real."

A focus on Scotland

Scottish Labour is in the process of choosing a replacement for its former leader Kezia Dugdale who resigned in late August.

Eyes will be firmly glued on the leadership contest throughout the conference as Labour has set itself the goal of bolstering its support in the region.

Kezia Dugdale
Ken Jack - Corbis | Corbis News | Getty Images
Kezia Dugdale

Labour won seven seats in Scotland in the 2017 general election but it lagged behind the Conservative Party, which secured 13 constituencies. Scotland had been considered a Labour stronghold up until the 2015 U.K. general election when it lost all but one of its seats in the region.

Momentum, the pro-Corbyn grassroots organization, is hosting an event dedicated to exploring the future of the Scottish Labour Party in Brighton on September 26.

The party conference will also provide Richard Leonard and Anas Sarwar - the two frontrunners in the leadership race - with the opportunity to lay out their policy priorities on the national stage.

The winner of the contest is due to be announced on November 18.

Self-congratulation

As the Labour Party signals its readiness to fight another election campaign, it's also likely to reflect on how its fortunes have changed over the course of the past year.

The 2016 Labour Party Conference got underway the day after Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected to the party's helm following a fractious leadership battle.

The bulk of opinion polls conducted in the lead-up to last year's gathering in Liverpool gave the Conservative Party a double-digit lead over its main left-wing opponent.

Against this backdrop, many Labour MPs voiced fears the party was heading for electoral oblivion.

Speaking to CNBC at last year's conference, the Labour MP Caroline Flint said: "I think in all honesty even Jeremy (Corbyn) would have to admit that we are far from in a position to challenge the Tory government in a general election."

This time around there are likely to be far fewer MPs making dire predictions about the party's future, even if divides between Labour factions remain.