A look ahead at the key events leading the news agenda next week, from the team at Foresight News. Delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Leading the week
Party conference season kicks off this week as Labour’s annual gathering begins on Sunday (September 25) with Keir Starmer’s tribute to The Queen and the deputy leader’s speech from Angela Rayner. The cost of living emergency unsurprisingly looms large, and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ speech on Monday (September 26) offers Labour’s first real opportunity to flesh out the detail of their long-term plan for navigating the crisis and offer a counterpoint to the ‘Plan for Growth’ Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced today; Reeves’ immediate reaction suggested it’ll be a punchy response to the tax-cutting measures announced by her counterpart.
Starmer follows on Tuesday (September 27) with his leader’s speech, as he once again faces calls to define what a Labour government would look like even as the party shows consistent polling leads. Starmer often positioned himself as a serious, grown-up alternative to Boris Johnson, but will have to take on a new tactic with Liz Truss; there’s certainly a more ideological angle for him to focus on, and we’re likely to hear more than once that the new prime minister’s plans disproportionately benefit the rich. Elsewhere at the conference, Starmer will be under pressure from members to clarify the party’s stance on support for electoral reform and striking workers, the latter after clashes between the Labour leadership and its MPs over appearances on picket lines.
The question of Labour’s response to strikes will rear its head almost immediately as transport union members walk out across the country on Saturday (October 1), the day before the Conservative Party conference begins in Birmingham. After the unions suspended action planned for last month in the wake of The Queen’s death, thousands of staff will go on strike as part of long-running disputes over pay and job security. Services are expected to be disrupted nationwide as staff from Network Rail and the major train operating companies, represented by the RMT and Aslef unions, are joined by rail workers in London and Hull and bus staff in the South West; the week also sees walkouts in other sectors, including colleges on Monday (September 26), dock workers on Tuesday (September 27), Post Office staff on Wednesday (September 28) and Royal Mail on Friday (September 30).
Dealing with restive unions and tackling the long-term issue of wage stagnation would be a challenge for any government, but the pressure on Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng to act on pay will only continue to grow as the cost of living crisis continues over the coming months, particularly as firms and arms-length bodies take matters into their own hands. With union leaders resolute on the prospect of industrial action continuing through the autumn and winter, the prime minister may need more than stern words to convince striking workers to abandon the picket line. The challenge facing many this winter will be underlined as the rail strike coincides with the energy price cap rise on Saturday (October 1). While the government will no doubt take the opportunity to highlight the Energy Price Guarantee that’s limiting the rise to an average of £2,500 per year and the £400 in support that will start paying out this month, the reality is that millions of families will still be facing increased bills alongside rising food prices, higher mortgage rates, double-digit inflation and a recession.
Hastily-organised referenda in four partly-Russian controlled areas of Ukraine on whether to come part of Russia are due to finish on Tuesday (September 27) with the results widely viewed as a foregone conclusion. The votes in the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republics, and in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, were announced in quick succession on September 20, a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilisation amid significant territorial losses in Ukraine. Western leaders were quick to denounce the referenda as a sham but, coupled with Putin’s menacing language in his September 21 speech, they have reignited fears that Russia could make good on threats to deploy nuclear weapons to defend ‘Russian’ territory.
In Japan, a rare state funeral takes place on Tuesday (September 27) for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was shot on July 8 by an assassin allegedly motivated by a grudge against the South Korean-based Unification Church. The strong links that have subsequently emerged between members of Abe’s LDP party and the church have contributed to a growing controversy over the government’s decision to hold (and fund) a state funeral, with one man setting himself on fire at a protest earlier this week.
Brazilians head to the polls to choose their next president on Sunday (October 2), with leftist former president Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva looking likely to defeat far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, though the race may yet head to a runoff at the end of the month. There are fears that Bolsonaro, who has never shied away from comparisons to Donald Trump, could contest the results. He has spent months alleging, without evidence, that electronic voting machines in Brazil are prone to fraud and suggesting ominously that he and his supporters would be prepared to ‘go to war’ if needed.