155: The Labour Party: Why bother?
With a seemingly strong and united government in place behind Theresa May, the current battles in the Labour Party risk making it look irrelevant. Recent polls shows that Labour is losing support which makes a victory in the 2020 general election look a distant prospect. So why should anyone bother engaging with Labour?
There seems little doubt that the Labour leadership election is turning into a farce. The legal fights over the supposed party rules are overshadowing the policy discussions that are starting to take place between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith. A leadership election could be an annual event if Corbyn continues to win.
Whereas the Conservative Party came to a swift resolution over its leader and can now get on with the job of running the country and shaping Brexit, the Labour Party is looking inwards and is still arguing amongst itself.
So why should organisations expend limited time, effort and resources in engaging with the Labour Party?
- Do not ignore Parliament – it is too easy to become fixated on what is happening with the leadership of a party but a lot of the hard work goes on in a less high profile way in Parliament. The work there is also likely to have the most impact on legislation and often in long-term policy development terms as well. A balanced approach between the parties provides options and allows a public strategy to be developed. Working, in effect, with only the party of Government limits your tactical options and, it can argued, makes you easier to ignore.
- Political parties have long memories – to simply stop engaging with a party is to risk the relationship over the long term. Many organisations made the mistake of simply dumping the Conservative Party after its 1997 result. Eventually, of course, the party returned to being an effective opposition and then returned to Government. Many in the parties will remember who stayed loyal and who did not.
- If you don’t input then you risk problems – you remain your own best advocates and if you are not talking to Labour then you risk your issues being misunderstood, having policy outcomes that run counter to your needs or being on the receiving end of a misinformed attack. All such outcomes are possible if engagement does not take place.
- Stable Government? A strategy that fails to engage with Labour assumes ongoing stability in the Government. May’s Government looks good at the moment but has not been stress tested yet, especially over Brexit. Once some of the deals need to be agreed then we will start to see how united the Government really is and how well the three Brexiteers at the top of Government – Davis, Johnson and Fox – can really work together. A one-party approach is a long-term risk.
- Local and national – the Labour Party remains hugely important at a local level. As well as controlling councils up and down England, Wales and even Scotland, the party’s candidates hold the mayoralties of London, Liverpool and Bristol (as well as a host of other areas). So ignoring Labour is to adopt an overly media and Westminster centric view of the world. As the shift towards devolution, signified by initiatives such as the Northern Powerhouse continues, then again ignoring Labour could cause your organisation substantial problems.
Regardless of the eventual outcome of the latest Labour leadership contest the party will have a lot of catching up to do. There is no doubt that it has a job on its hands to get back into government in 2020 (or before). But if your engagement is only about who is in government or might soon get into Government then your strategy is all wrong.
Politics can be quite complicated.
10 August 2016