Is it time to prepare for the possibility of a Labour government?
Of all the startling transformations in British political history, has there been one to rival Labour’s over the last three years?
In late 2015, we watched a nervous, ill-at-ease Jeremy Corbyn deliver his first leader’s speech at a Labour conference. He spoke to party members unsure of him; Labour MPs who were waiting for a chance to oust him; and a public who regarded him, at best, as an interesting anomaly – a man who had stumbled into the top job.
The last three years have seen a second leadership election, allegations of antisemitism, accusations of lukewarm support for the ‘Remain’ EU referendum campaign, and mass resignations from his shadow cabinet.
Yesterday we saw a Corbyn transformed. A man convincing in his delivery and talking about issues close to his heart. The conference hall was fully behind him, Labour MPs have largely bought into his programme, and, over a four-day conference, the Labour leadership even managed to reach a united (at least for now, at least in public) position on BREXIT.
Perhaps most tellingly, a quick scan of news websites and social media reveals that for the first time, journalists seemed to think his performance was as close to commanding as he has yet come.
Huge question marks remain: can Labour convert the adulation among the party faithful into acceptance across the country as a whole? Will all the electorate who voted Labour in the last election still support them when they declare their hand on BREXIT? How can a raft of big-ticket spending commitments, such as increased free child care, 10,000 more police officers, additional funding for social care, the nationalisation of key industries, and more investment in infrastructure, be paid for? And can Corbyn ride out the seemingly unending stream of stories linking him to extremist figures from his years on the backbenches?
But for now, and for the first time, it’s not unreasonable to say that Labour look like a party that is the nearest it has been to government for the best part of a decade.
So, what does this mean for those leading organisations looking to influence policy in Whitehall and Westminster?
1. Take your engagement with Labour seriously
There was a time a couple of years ago that Corporate and Public Affairs Directors could, quite reasonably, put all their eggs in the Conservative basket, focusing on engaging and establishing relationships with a party that looked likely to govern for the next decade. This is no longer true; a Labour administration is now a distinct possibility and one that needs to be planned for.
A first port of call must be the office of John McDonnell MP. The Shadow Chancellor appears to be the centre for policy formation within the party, and it has become apparent, over a tumultuous summer, that the MP for Hayes and Harlington has begun to take on a role as the level head amongst the leadership. His is an influence that will only continue to grow.
2. Establish your position on Labour’s policy agenda
If Jeremy Corbyn becomes PM, expect a raft of policies that pose a challenge for business. It is crucial that before that happens, you establish your views, positions and suggested alternatives.
Take, as just one example, today’s announcement that a Labour government would commit to achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
It would be a bold company that dismissed this policy out of hand. But, informed businesses with expertise in this area have a responsibility to highlight possible unintended consequences or stumbling blocks. A carefully crafted position, including alternative options or policy considerations, will allow you to engage in the debate, mitigate potential unintended consequences, and avoid pitching yourself against a potential Labour administration.
Ultimately, that is the priority for any business looking to engage with Labour in the months ahead. The Party has laid out an ambitious and long-term vision for the UK, and businesses can now look at where opportunities exist to build relationships and understanding.
Thoughtful and sustained engagement with Labour has moved from an option, to a necessity.