Hitting the ground running: The first 100 days
Hitting the ground running: The first 100 days

A clear cultural shift: how Labour will govern differently

Words by:
Senior Political Advisor
July 3, 2024

Attention is now focused on what a new Labour government – but beyond policy differences, how will the party govern differently?

Firstly, it is worth remembering that Labour have been out of power for 14 long years. This means that many of the MPs who will be stepping into departments as newly minted Ministers will have little to no ministerial experience. And this is the same for the army of SpAds who will be assuming their new roles.

In terms of understanding quite how different Labour will be, it helps to start by looking at the people – there is every likelihood that Labour will have a huge number of new MPs, some in seats that they very much didn’t expect to win. Labour PPCs are full of those with backgrounds in local government, trades unions and charities. Many are campaigners, some are public affairs professionals, and quite a few may well be elected with relatively shallow majorities in a number of diverse regions. This will leave Keir with a large and new PLP to manage, and though it is a nice problem to have, it can pose it’s own complications with a number of competing priorities and egos.

In terms of the practicalities of government, it is worth reflecting that Keir respects process and institutions, as does Sue Grey his Chief of Staff, (Sir Philip Rutnam, Chair of WA’s Advisory Board and former Permanent Secretary explores how this will shape the structure of Whitehall more broadly here), so unlike previous PMs there will not be the informal sofa government we have seen previously.

There will also be a clear cultural shift – Labour is more than a political party, it’s a movement. And it has an eco-system very different to the Tories with a far stronger and robust internal democracy which includes the trades unions, who are an integral part of the Labour movement.

The new Cabinet themselves will come from a far more diverse range of backgrounds than we have seen under the Tories. Some grew up in poverty and many have working-class backgrounds which they’ve spoken about, especially in framing their political outlook. The times when Eton dominated the Cabinet table will be long gone and the tone and language of the new government will reflect this.

Also important is an appreciation of how laser focused Labour will be on their key missions and policies. Keir has been keen to consistently stress that economic growth is their absolute priority, so companies and organisations will want to look at how they can be part of this narrative.

There will be very little bandwidth for anything other than their stated priorities as well as very limited fiscal headroom. For those looking to engage with Labour, the challenge will be to use smart and nuanced ways in, where policy aligns with priorities, and companies can demonstrate their role in both growing the economy and shaping the fairer society Labour want to see.

There will be opportunities for engagement, whether it is through the various new consultations that will be launched, working groups or roundtables, as well as keeping up to date with the left of centre think tanks who in the last Labour government provided a lot of policy kite flying.

Questions around the structures of government and how Keir will manage No 10, not least the challenge of getting departments working together on cross departmental policy priorities, are not clear yet. What is clear is that HMT will be central to all key decisions as they focus their attention on budget and spending review in addition to making their growth plans a reality.

And this is forgetting what happens to all the best laid plans of governments…events! Unforeseen issues and events impact greatly on a PMs time and energy – whether this is pressing foreign policy issues or domestic crisies that can come out of nowhere, the pace and relentlessness of government is a different level to opposition.

Labour will be hoping that a predicted Tory leadership race, with all the ‘fun’ that entails, will give them some time and space before the media inevitably want a new story and turn their focus onto Labour.

Still, even on its worst days, being in government is a million times better than being in opposition, and after 14 years out in the cold, Labour will not be complacent about finally having the ability to do, rather than just say.

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