Given the current position of the Labour Party in the polls and its drift leftwards many business clients and partners have asked me why they should bother engaging with Labour. Labour are unlikely to be in government for at least 10 years – if not longer - their thinking goes. This is a mistake from a public affairs perspective for a number of reasons:
Firstly, the May government has a very small majority. A smart opposition can launch guerrilla attacks in Parliament to give the government a bloody nose with clever amendments in either the Commons or the Lords. This is why I am supporting my client Tower Transit, and other like-minded, transport operators , to encourage members of both houses, on a cross party basis, to pass the Bus Services Bill presently before Parliament. (The Bill essentially gives transport authorities outside London the powers the TfL has in London to introduce franchising in their areas. This is being vigorously opposed by the big five incumbent UK operators who understandably fear losing market share and profits.)Whilst this is a government Bill, some Conservative MPs and peers may vote for amendments proposed by its opponents that will frustrate the ability of Transport Authorities to introduce franchising which my clients wish to see. So Labour MPs and peers votes are needed to get it through.
Secondly, there are several Labour Chairs of important Parliamentary Committees. The BEIS Committee recently grilled Sir Phillip Green and Mike Ashley and have had a major impact on their businesses and reputations. Some respected Labour MPs Chair the Public Accounts, Transport, Environmental Audit, DFID and BEIS Committees and the current Homes Affairs Committee vacancy has attracted two heavyweights candidates: Chukka Ummuna and Caroline Flint. These Committees command significant influence on legislation and the day to day management of their respective departments. Any business with an interest in those areas of government would do well to track and engage with their activity.
Thirdly, Labour is in power in local and regional government in many parts of the country. There are three City Regional Mayor elections next year in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham which the Labour candidates ought to win. These Mayors will have new devolved powers and large budgets to manage and any businesses that do business with these parts of local government will need to understand the Labour candidates’ manifestos and plans. Of course Labour also has a very high profile and popular Mayor in London: Sadiq Khan.
Finally, any business that deals with government should sustain its relationships with all major parties through good times and bad. And there is an advantage with doing it when a party is in the doldrums: it’s a lot easier. When a party is in government it is really tough to talk to anyone significant. They are surrounded by gate keepers and advisers and their diaries are packed. MPs for a party that is down in the polls will generally be more interested in engaging with business when they have the time to do it and they can be helpful and influential as noted above. And they will remember their business friends when they are back in power. The current reports of Labour’s death are, to be frank, nonsense. In spite of the divisions, Labour will continue to get anywhere between 20 and 30 per cent of the national vote. Not enough to win a general election, but enough to keep it alive and influential.
*Photo Credit: Labour Party Facebook Page