Welcome back to Road to the General Election, the regular political insight newsletter from BCW London’s Corporate and Public Affairs team. This week, we are placing a spotlight on the Labour Party.
As a team consisting of specialists from both the Labour and Conservative parties, BCW is expertly placed to help you navigate the lead-up to the next general election. To find out more about how we can support your business, please contact our Head of Public Affairs Simon Richards: [email protected]
The Imitation Game? How Businesses Can Influence Government Policy Through Labour Engagement
By Ben Lucas, Account Manager, BCW UK
The old adage that imitation is the ‘sincerest form of flattery’ has been stress-tested in British politics recently as Labour politicians look on in increasing incredulity at the Conservative Party’s attempts to copycat their ideas across a range of key priorities.
First came the windfall tax. As early as January 2022, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves called for such a measure to reinvest unexpectedly high levels of oil and gas company profits into lowering the burden facing households amidst rocketing energy bills, only for Rishi Sunak to introduce his own scheme as Chancellor five months later.
Then came childcare, with the current Chancellor Jeremy Hunt expanding free care to cover one- and two-year-olds. This was largely seen as the unexpected “rabbit in the hat” of last month’s Spring Budget, despite Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson having led on childcare reform as a centrepiece of her political agenda for months.
Even the government’s anti-social behaviour offer – also announced this past March - mirrored Labour’s idea, first aired in February, that victims should be placed at the heart of retribution efforts, leading Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed to dryly quip that the Tories “aren’t against robbery” when it comes to policies.
On a granular level, Labour and Conservative policies clearly aren’t carbon copies of each other and differ in terms of scope, ideology and ambition – depending on whose side you are on. Moreover, simple electoral logic dictates that the two main parties of British politics would understandably focus on popular voter priorities. Indeed, there is a long history of UK governments shamelessly “stealing” well liked opposition policies for political expediency. This partly explains why ascendent oppositions keep the detail quiet until they really have to.
That being said, recent Tory imitations of Labour policies speak to an interesting recent shift. The narrative that Labour is “setting the agenda” is growing in authority, contrasted with supposed governance fatigue following 13 years in office for the Conservatives. While such attack lines aren’t new from Labour, their strong polling lead gives them newfound weight.
This development has important implications for how businesses and groups affect change in the UK. Engaging with Labour’s political leadership, its MPs, National Policy Forum, party officials and the eco-sphere of centre-left think tanks is no longer simply about seeking to affect UK policy in the longer-term. Instead, Labour’s authority to set the parameters of public debate is growing and will grow further still, so long as it continues to be seen as a credible government-in-waiting. Engaging Labour stakeholders and influencing their views today therefore should not be seen by businesses simply as a future investment, but as providing opportunities to shape government policies in the here and now.
Data taken from Politico’s poll of polls for the United Kingdom (29th March)
LAB - 46%
CON – 28%
LIB DEM – 9%
GREENS – 4%
REFORM – 5%
SNP – 3%
Certain projections still predict a large parliamentary majority for Labour, though some polls show signs of tightening compared with recent weeks. The New Statesman’s ‘State of the Nation’ modelling puts Labour on 383 seats, with 174 for the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats are also expected to gain nine seats, putting them on 20 MPs overall.
In a sign of the challenges facing the Prime Minister, polling from YouGov has revealed that Britons are more likely to say the government is doing badly at delivering all five of Rishi Sunak’s key pledges. This may provide Labour false comfort, as the Prime Minister’s stock could receive a surprise boost among the public should he confound expectations and make good on his promises.
Last week saw Labour kick off its local elections campaign with a promise to freeze council tax for this year, were it in government. The party is also at an advanced stage in fleshing out key parts of its digital economy offer, with a policy paper outlining the party’s direction of travel due for publication in May.
Sources close to the process say the proposals will paint a positive vision for tech as an enabler of innovation and growth in the UK economy. It will aim to “democratise” and share the wins from tech across society, taking inspiration from the principles followed by the German government.
Those working on the project include Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell, as well as Peter Hyman, Stuart Ingham and Muneera Lula, Keir Starmer’s senior adviser, deputy director of policy and head of domestic policy, respectively. The Labour Together think tank, which enjoys political support from across the Shadow Cabinet, has also been offering advice.
While the finer details of Labour’s regulatory approach to tech will highly depend on the landscape come the next election, this paper will look at the direction of travel and denote areas where Labour thinks tech can add most value in the current digital age – such as across public services. Indeed, Shadow Science Minister Chi Onwurah has already spoken about the need to harness regulation so that it is pro-growth, agile, and does not impede competition.
The weeks ahead will be critical for technology businesses, and those with interests in the sector, to air their aspirations with Labour on their ideal UK tech regulatory environment. Whether directly with political stakeholders, or via tech groups and trade associations, this engagement will be key.
Thank you for reading, we’ll see you soon.
Discover more about BCW’s Public Affairs offer here