“In our second blog on the subject of Labour, Pagefield’s Public Affairs Partner James Barge sets out why you shouldn’t be ignoring the party just yet.”
Last week we set out the current state of the Labour Party and touched on the potential scenarios for their immediate future. But what does that mean from a public affairs perspective? Should you be engaging with Her Majesty’s Official Opposition? Are they relevant? The short answer, despite the obvious turmoil within Labour, is yes.
Understandably, most companies choose to place their focus on the party of government. On the face of it, this approach is justified when:
But beyond those fairly obvious and Westminster-centric observations, the risks of ignoring the Labour Party remain.
Do not forget the role of Labour in Parliament. The Conservatives may have a majority, but it is a narrow one. Additionally, the discipline of the newly formed May Government is really yet to be tested in any significant way. The ruthless efficiency of the reshuffle has left a number of disaffected former ministers on the backbenches and with testing times to come it is entirely plausible that manging that narrow majority will become a headache for the Whips’ Office. Equally, Labour may be split over the leadership election, but when it comes to votes they remain influential in the Commons and vital in the Lords – where they have inflicted several defeats on Government. Labour’s role on Select Committees, where several heavy hitting former ministers and shadow ministers now reside, should also be taken into account.
Continuing your public affairs programme in a balanced way is therefore important. Parliamentarians understand the political cycle, but having worked both in politics and a global FMCG, I can assure you that choosing to only engage a year or so out from an election or around a single issue, is seen as cynical and can be counterproductive. Maintaining a balanced approach and building the relationships, both in the good times as well as the bad (for you or them), should be your priority.
A policy of non-engagement based on current polling or election predictions will only store up problems in the future. Politics is cyclical. At some point Labour will return to power. Regardless of whether that’s in 2020, 2025 or beyond, it would be the wrong strategy to ignore a generation of politicians who – as above – have influence now let alone the future.
Finally, as set out in the previous blog, the role of Labour as a local and regional force is clear. London, Liverpool and Bristol have Labour Mayors. West Midlands, the broader Liverpool Metropolitan area and Manchester are likely to follow suit in May next year. Labour are in power in Wales. That is not an insignificant power base outside of SW1 without even getting to the point of looking at councils under Labour control.
While we are all absorbed by jam-making, seating preferences and the job histories of a leadership contest, the work of politics continues. And your public affairs engagement should continue as well. Labour may look irrelevant as an electoral force, but they still have more than enough influence to justify engaging with them.