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What to expect from Labour's annual conference as Keir Starmer's party gathers in Liverpool

From tactics to take on the new prime minister through to tensions with the unions, it is going to be a busy few days for Sir Keir Starmer and the membership.

Image:Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer
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After a quiet period for politics following the death of the Queen, it is now back in full flow, and the curtailed conference season is about to kick off in Liverpool with Labour's annual gathering.

So what can we expect to be the key issues on the ground for the party, its members and, of course, its leader?

Sky News takes a look at what will be coming up over the next five days.

Tackling Truss

Labour is heading into this conference in a stronger position electorally than it has been for some time, according to the polls.

A round-up of surveys by the Press Association showed Labour was four points behind the Conservatives when Boris Johnson moved into Number 10 in 2019, averaging support of 25% to the Tories' 29%.

But as he exited Downing Street, these numbers had flipped on their head, with Labour now averaging 41% - 11 points ahead of the Tories - and the public overwhelmingly saying Sir Keir Starmer would make a better PM than Mr Johnson.

However, there is now a new figure in charge to contend with - Liz Truss.

Image:Liz Truss won the Conservative leadership contest held over the summer

Due to the Queen's passing, we have yet to see many exchanges between the two party leaders, but there was one thing made clear during their first week opposite one another - there is now a political line drawn in the sand over tax and spend.

The attack lines from Sir Keir will now have to be more nuanced and focused on these policy divides, rather than the arguably easy targets of her predecessor around standards and behaviour.

And remember, new prime ministers often get a honeymoon period and a bounce in the polls as they unveil the plans for their premiership.

So it will be up to Sir Keir to show at this conference that he is the man for the job, that he can keep up the momentum the party gained during the Johnson years, and move even further ahead if they want to win back power at the next general election - which could come in less than two years.

Relationship with the unions

From the threat of industrial action from nurses and teachers, through to the reality of shutdowns by rail and postal workers, strikes have dominated the country in recent months, with staff demanding better pay and working conditions.

While it has affected many of our daily lives, and looks set to continue in the coming weeks, it has left the Labour leadership in a sticky situation too.

The party was born from the trade union movement and some of the biggest organisations - including Unison, Unite, and the GMB - are all affiliated to Labour, playing a big part in its ruling body (the National Executive Committee), and hold members representing half of the delegation heading to conference.

But Sir Keir has stayed away from backing the actions of this key part of his party, even going as far as banning his frontbench team from joining any picket lines.

Image:Aslef - which represents rail workers - is one of Labour's affiliated unions that has been out on strike

He says he wants to show the wider electorate that Labour is ready to be in government, not just to be campaigners, and were he prime minister, he would be sorting out the disputes around the negotiating table, rather than letting it get to the point of strike action.

But this stance has upset a number of the unions, with Unite's leader Sharon Graham accusing him of "sticking two fingers up" at workers, as well as some of his MPs on the left of the party, who have joined the pickets anyway.

She will be speaking at a fringe event at the conference, so it will be interesting to hear what she has to say.

Sir Keir has also moved away from previous pledges in his leadership campaign on renationalising utility companies, angering the same subsection of the party, and it won't be a surprise to see this topic, along with inflation-matching pay rises, coming up on the conference hall floor.

With such a large contingent of union members set to head to Liverpool this weekend, and more strikes coming around the corner, the upcoming action and the leadership's response are sure to play a big part in the conference.

Cost of living crisis

With a stressful winter ahead for households and businesses across the country, it will be of no surprise that the wider cost of living crisis is going to be a big focus of the conference.

Labour has had some success in its policy proposals so far, with former chancellor Rishi Sunak adopting the party's energy windfall tax plan - albeit repackaged - earlier this year during his ultimately unsuccessful Tory leadership campaign.

But now the row is over how to pay for additional support for bills in the coming months - with Labour wanting to extend the windfall tax to use more of the excess profits of oil and gas firms to pay for it, while Ms Truss's government wants to pay for it through borrowing, so not to put off companies investing in the country.

Image:Home and business budgets will be feeling the impact this winter as the cost of living crisis rolls on

The support for Sir Keir on this position will be strong at conference, but energy is only one part of the problem.

The coming days will be a big opportunity for the party to lay out more eye-catching policies to win over the support of voters who are fearful of the months ahead.

NHS

Another major problem area across the country is the NHS and social care. Ambulances are queueing up outside hospitals unable to hand over patients, the waiting lists for operations are at an all-time high, and there are record vacancies in an already worn out workforce.

Ms Truss has already said fixing the issues in the NHS is one of her main priorities, but an early announcement from her new Health Secretary Therese Coffey on the government's plans was met with a rather lukewarm reception.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting hit the airwaves hard to criticise them, saying: "Asking the Conservatives now to fix the crisis in the NHS is a bit like expecting an arsonist to put out the fire."

But what is Labour's plan?

Image:Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting says we will find out Labour's plans for the NHS at conference

Mr Streeting told Sky News the "biggest crisis" in the country was what was happening in the NHS and he promised the party would "have lots to say" on the issue during its conference.

He also scoffed at the limit of a two-week wait for a GP appointment as proposed by Ms Coffey, pointing to a policy under the last Labour government to be seen within 48 hours. Could that policy be back on the table?

The party's rising star has built up expectations. We wait to see if he meets them during the conference.

Childcare 'reimagined'

Another shadow cabinet member making big promises is Bridget Phillipson - Labour's lead on education.

Three days before conference kicks off, she did an interview with the Evening Standard, saying childcare would be "completely transformed" and the current system "completely reimagined" if Labour took office - promising a first stage announcement in Liverpool.

And casting an eye over the list of fringe meetings, her and her colleagues will be popping up all over the place to discuss it.

Image:Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has served in Sir Keir's cabinet since he won the leadership

Ms Phillipson told the newspaper: "We need a complete transformation in how we deliver childcare right across our country... it has always been piecemeal, we have had different bits added to the system.

"We need to create a modern childcare system that provides comprehensive support from the end of parental leave right to the end of primary school and recognises how modern families live their lives today."

She also pointed to tackling the price, which could be music to parents ears now the average cost of sending a child under two to nursery has hit £263.81 a week, with after school clubs averaging £62 a week.

But we will have to wait a few more days until we see the detail, and how Labour plans to pay for it.