How to Engage with the Labour Party

14 Feb 2023, 08:30

By Reg Pula, Associate Director at Rud Pedersen UK

By the time of the next general election, expected between Spring and Autumn in 2024, the Labour Party, the largest social democratic party in Europe, will have been in opposition for 14 years and will have not won a general election in almost 20 years.

When I speak to colleagues from our other 14 offices across Europe, it’s clear that this is a relatively unique situation. After all, many European countries have proportional representation systems where mainstream opposition parties are either often in government or have strong chances to be an integral part of the next coalition government. By their very nature, coalitions increase the probability of mainstream parties being in power at any given time. For businesses in these countries then, constant engagement with the opposition is essential.

In the UK, we operate a majoritarian system, so coalitions are rare and even the largest opposition parties can spend lengthy times on the sideline. This means that for many businesses, whose public affairs budgets require regular justification (which is especially true in times of economic turbulence), constant engagement is essentially disincentivised.

Under these circumstances then, it is no surprise that many businesses now, having seen the significant polling lead that Labour have established over the past few months, see a clear need to ramp up engagement with the Labour Party, but may be scratching their heads about where to start, may even be wondering whether it is too late and, perhaps even more importantly, may be considering how they can achieve quality engagement.

The good thing is that it is absolutely not too late to start; in fact, this is a great time to ramp up your engagement with the Labour Party. This is because 2023 is the year Labour significantly develops its own ‘preparing for government’ work, where it will seek to fully define what it wishes to achieve in government and how.

The what requires listening to a range of stakeholders, including businesses, about their issues before deciding on what key policy areas the Labour Party will major on later this year at Labour Conference and into next year, ahead of a manifesto launch. Think of this as the ‘consultation period’. Moreover, the fact that oppositions do not have the same level of resource as government and that Keir Starmer and his team are much more receptive to evidence-based arguments than the previous leadership provides ample opportunities to engage with the Labour policy agenda in this period.

The how requires setting out, in practical terms, how Labour’s key policy areas and concerns are going to be delivered – how are they going to be funded, what legislation will be required, how many extra civil servants are going to needed and what other departmental changes are going to be required. Shadow Cabinet Members are already having sessions with think tanks centred around furthering their understanding of how the practicalities of government have changed since 2010.

For business, engagement with this process can occur primarily in three ways:

  • The National Policy Forum (NPF). Launched recently, the NPF is the most formal way that businesses can engage with the Labour Party. This process is akin to an official government consultation, and businesses can make submissions to six different areas aligned with Labour’s wider vision, which include the economy and trade. The deadline for submissions in the 17th March.

  • Direct engagement with the Labour frontbench. Direct engagement with Labour Shadow Cabinet Members and shadow junior ministers is a good way of making sure that your issues are heard as part of this consultation process, although MPs are likely to be inundated with requests, so it is always advisable to communicate with Labour political advisers (the equivalent of Government special advisers) beforehand in order to get a good sense of how the politicians are likely to respond. Meetings with political advisers are highly useful in and of themselves, as they will have significant say over Labour’s approach.

  • Indirect engagement. This primarily mean engaging with key, Labour-linked think tanks and trade unions, as well as left-leaning news organisations, who are influential within the current Labour Party. This includes unions such as GMB and think tanks such as TBI. Strong engagement with such organisations – who can set and drive policy agendas in the Labour movement – can help provide greater credence and support for your issues.

Ultimately, the most successful strategies will combine these approaches in a coherent way. Rud Pedersen can help you deliver for your business by working with you to formulate your thinking and execute a creative, tailored strategy that makes your issues political priorities, using our expert and up-to-date understanding of the Labour Party as well as our wide networks and ability to get you in the room.

If you would like to strengthen your relationship with Labour or find out more, please feel free to get in touch at [email protected].