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#13: The United Kingdom under a Labour Government

June 25, 2024 #How to
#13: The United Kingdom under a Labour Government
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A lot of our non-UK clients have been asking us what’s happening in the run up to the general election next month, what’s likely to happen after the election, and how they should be thinking about influence work in the UK. I spoke with Cast from Clay public affairs consultant Jamie Horton to get his thoughts.

The likelihood is Keir Starmer being in 10 Downing Street on July 5th with a decisive mandate. You can argue about whether that mandate is a reflection of people buying into Labour’s vision, or simply rejecting the status quo and wanting a change. But in practical terms you get the same result: a Labour government with a big majority. I would be surprised if it’s a 250+ seat majority and the Conservatives are completely wiped out, if only because of the electoral legacy and strength that the Conservative Party has. But the polls aren’t narrowing and the Conservatives are moving from one error to the next, so a Labour landslide looks entirely possible.

Change is the key message from Labour, but growth is what underpins their policy offer to the country. They’re making the case that we’re in a bad place, that we’re constrained by the state the Conservatives have left the country in, and so to deliver these positive changes we’re going to deliver growth first. That growth will then allow the changes on energy, on health, on education, on whatever.

The Labour party has historically been seen as less economically credible. There’s always a trust issue for Labour on public finances to some degree. This was particularly true in 2019 with Corbyn. It was like a big Christmas tree of promises – people didn’t think it added up. The Starmer campaign has been laser-focused over the last two or three years on ensuring that everything is fully funded, and presenting Labour as economically and fiscally responsible. That gives electoral credibility, and – so they argue – the foundations for the strong growth that will allow them to deliver that change.

People will give Labour time to see things change, but after a while that patience runs out. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. There will be an element of breathing space right after the election, whether that’s six months, a year, it’s hard to pin down. But there will come a point when people will want a sense that under a Labour Government the country is moving in the right direction. Is their experience of public services improving? I think that will be one of the key criteria.

We can see in the election that this argument about where effective opposition is going to come from is already a talking point. Current ministers are talking about the risk of a Labour “supermajority” – although that doesn’t really mean anything in the British sense – and therefore you should vote Conservative. Post-election, the policy debates are going to be much more within Labour, than Labour-Conservative. At the moment the pressure on Starmer comes from the right because Labour need Conservative swing voters. So it’s ‘We’re strong on immigration’, ‘We are patriotic’. After the election, the pressure is going to come from the Labour base. The focus will be on how they deliver on their promises to their key supporters, whether it’s workers’ rights for the unions, climate policy for the environmentalists, NHS reform etc.

The pressure will be even greater if growth fails to materialise. If the economic growth to fund major policy change doesn’t appear, a new Labour government will start to feel the heat. If they can’t fund change at the scale required within their self-imposed fiscal rules, will they look for more radical solutions to deliver on their election promises?

There’s going to be a completely different policy landscape under a large majority Labour government. There are going to be new centres of power and influence. You’re moving from a world where you have internal divisions within the Conservative Party which have had a massive impact on policy, to one where the different elements of the Labour movement will become much more prominent. I would expect the unions to be a much stronger voice, both in terms of their ability to shape policy, but also as a yardstick for those with policy proposals to measure their agenda against. You will have additional power centres in terms of devolved administrations (Wales, Scotland, and metro mayors), especially the Labour ones. The devolved Labour administrations will likely have greater weight speaking to a Labour government than they currently do speaking to a Conservative government.

For organisations looking to shape policy under a large majority Labour government, you need to be really mindful of how your proposals will be received. I think we’re likely to see a continuation of the current campaigning mindset, at least in the first instance. In a campaign, you need to recognise that parties will be focused on policy proposals that will help them speak to the electorate. So does your policy proposal work for the manifesto? Does it speak to a dividing line or a relevant segment of the electorate? If it doesn’t answer those questions in a good way, it’s likely to be ignored or discarded. The same will be true post-election – the key test will be whether your policy helps a Labour government advance or deliver one of its five key missions.

If your policy proposal has nothing to do with the five missions, you’re not going to be able to go to the leadership and be like, “You should have a sixth mission”. That isn’t an argument that’s going to work. Instead, can you build enough momentum behind an idea within different parts of the Labour church to raise the salience of your issue and force the leadership to pay attention to it? A post-election world is a different place. You have new challenges of party management when the focus on one single shared outcome transitions to government where everyone has a million different priorities.

Within the first maybe 6 months there will still be that adherence to the missions, to the central policy offer. But as time goes on there will be a natural splintering, and people will want to move in different directions. So, if your policy area is outside of those big missions then, aside from thinking very hard about how it could potentially relate to one of those five missions, you need to be focused on building that groundswell of support, waiting for that splintering moment to come. Email me if you want thoughts on how you could do this.

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