Can Labour become a party of Government? What does that mean for public affairs?

Posted by: on Aug 1, 2022 | No Comments

Keir Starmer continues to face challenges as leader of the Labour Party. There is no doubting the improvement he has already made to their electability, but further change is promised. Is Labour likely to form the next Government? How should those in public affairs be preparing?

The challenge

Writing in the Sunday Mirror, Starmer made his position clear,

‘Labour must go from party of protest into power – then hand power to working people’

Many have suggested that now is a time when Labour should be making significant inroads with the public and that the opinion polls should be decisively turning in their favour. With the Conservative Party in the process of electing a new leader / Prime Minister and with a cost-of-living crisis gaining momentum, now is a time when Labour should be moving ahead.

However, the reaction to Starmer’s sacking of Sam Tarry from his transport brief shows that internal challenges remain. There are also a number of prominent external critics of Starmer and his leadership as well.

Programme for government

What Labour now needs is a clear programme for government and that is where a proactive public affairs programme can step in.

But what does the engagement need to consider?

  • Ideas – helping the party to appear credible but also differentiating it from others. Some argue that the party needs a ‘big idea’. If such an idea does start to emerge, then the engagement needs to reflect that as well.
  • Delivery – the party needs ideas that can be implemented quickly to show that it can make changes quickly on entering government.
  • Internal – always think ahead and try to help avoid unnecessary internal battles within the party. As the Tarry issue illustrates, tensions remain.
  • Challenging the government – dealing with the issues that current government are seen as weak on, and that feature as main aspects of Labour’s campaigning, such as the cost-of-living crisis.
  • Network development – many organisations are simply too transactional when it comes dealing with Labour and opposition parties. They often only talk to them when it looks like the party may enter government. Parties do have memories so if you feel into this category then be prepared for pushback / be prepared to explain yourselves.
  • Business – the Party wants engagement with business and is actively reaching out. That was not always the case in the recent past, despite what was said in public. There is no excuse for not grasping such opportunities.
  • Help to avoid confusion – some members of the Shadow Cabinet have said contradictory things, such as on national ownership, this could be said to be a weakness of their media lines or of the discipline being exerted by the leaders’ office. However, good engagement will help the Party to avoid such confusion.
  • Reflect the party’s concerns – an opposition’s concerns are not always too different from those of a government. Though there will often be a different level of priority or emphasis given. If you want your arguments and ideas to resonate, then you need to understand your intended audience.

Not out of power

It is always worth stressing that engaging with any opposition party is not about playing party politics or being overtly critical of the current incumbents. It is a reflection that all organisations need networks across politics and are taking the necessary opportunities to minimise potential risks and maximise potential influence.

The other opposition parties too need to be engaged. Don’t forget that whilst the SNP may be in opposition in Westminster, they are in government in Scotland. But the same principle is true for Labour as well. They are in power in Wales, and across mayoralties and local government.

There are a number of reasons why engagement with Labour should be taken seriously but always consider their requirements and pressures, not just your own.