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01 June 2020

270: The rise (again) of Labour

The Labour Party under Sir Keir Starmer is starting to show that despite a government majority of 80, they can be a force to reckon with. So any good public affairs programme needs to take its Labour relations seriously again.

For many organisations, their relationships with the Corbyn-led party could be a balancing act. Business audiences, in particular, never really fully trusted the party’s agenda. Given Brexit and the lack of a government majority, they knew that they needed to work with Labour but they were never really sure which way policy would go. It could be an uneasy relationship at best.

Within a matter of weeks of taking over, Starmer has shown that he is a very different type of leader than Corbyn. He is, for instance, willing to offer to work in a more cross party way and didn’t immediately jump to calls of ‘resign’ when Dominic Cummings first hit the headlines.

The chances of inflicting defeats on the government remains a very distant prospect but a united Labour party, doing better in the polls, makes them a serious prospect not just for government (although maybe not at the next election) but also in helping to secure change to policy.

Of course, there remain many unknowns about how the party’s policy priorities and how policy development will be run. However, at least initially, it appears a much less centralised process than Corbyn’s party (despite their talk of democracy). If nothing else, the Shadow Cabinet is stronger and those involved will want a say in policy development, not simply to have policies handed down to them.

So why think about your Labour engagement now?

  • New appointments – The party has recently appointed its new Shadow team and there has been a lot of change at senior and junior levels, as well as between departments. They need to be briefed on your issues and no assumption should be made that any previous contact counts for anything now;
  • Labour is more open to business – One of the lessons of the last election was not just the lack of confidence in the leadership, but also apparent hostility to the private sector. Many of the big policies of the last manifesto were focused on what the state would do. For many, the idea of part-nationalising BT to facilitate the delivery of free broadband just undermined the party’s credibility rather than enhancing it. The Starmer leadership looks like it will favour a different balance between the public and private sectors.
  • No volte-face – The party cannot, for internal reasons, do complete volte-face on many policies but may be open to help in shifting the focus of policies. Outside input will be invaluable in such situations.
  • A new government means a different type of opposition – The type of government, PM, and majority, faced by Starmer is very different from that Corbyn faced during his time as leader. That brings with it a different policy agenda so Labour too has no option than to move on as well. So as the party faces new challenges, it will need help and advice from outside.

There has already been more outreach from Labour and requests for engagement. The party wants to hear from organisations. Their teams are ready to talk and to ignore those opportunities could be hugely detrimental.

So now is the time to take Labour seriously again.

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