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

The Battle for Westminster: Labour’s new policy engine

Words by:
May 2, 2019

After nine years and countless gruesome deaths, the end looms for the most successful television series of all time. But for all those mourning the end of Game of Thrones there is some solace, for we don’t have to look far to see its parallel in our political drama.

Where the Conservative Party resembles the early sections of the series, with various kings and queens (leadership contenders) jostling for position on the Iron Throne (Number 10), over on the other side things seem rather clearer. Having risen from relative obscurity, the silver haired leader now commands almost total control, aided by an army of loyal fighters and some formidable “dragons” – perhaps stretching the metaphor to breaking point. It would seem that, like Daenerys, Corbyn is totally in control of his faction, but this is not to say that there is not still a jostling for ideas and the future direction of the Party.

Whereas the right has seen a flurry of new think tank and policy launches in the wake of the disastrous performance at the 2017 election, many used as a vehicle to propel a future leadership challenge, things have appeared rather quieter for the left. Having secured the hegemony of Corbyn as leader, and a victory for his ideas, on the surface at least policy development has appeared less about launching brand new ideas and more about fleshing out that which is already the platform. However, appearances can be deceiving.

Last week saw the launch of the newest vehicle for developing left-wing policy in the UK. Common Wealth is a think tank committed to offering radical solutions to models of ownership across the country and across sectors, looking at land, resources, capital and technology. The think tank brings together former IPPR Senior Research Fellow Mathew Lawrence as its Director – co-author of the “inclusive ownership fund” later adopted by John McDonnell – with a board featuring trans-Atlantic academic and economic development guru Joe Guinan, journalist Aditya Chakrabortty, and former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband MP (among others).

Where many might view the politics of the left over the last few years as being driven by protest, rhetoric and, at times, confusion, the launch of an already influential think tank suggests something very different. Much was made of the link between the UK Labour Party and the Democrats in the USA, in particular the activism and environmentalism of rising stars such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The sharing of ideas and campaign strategies across the Atlantic over the years to come is likely to continue as a theme over the coming years.

Another key theme, something which underpins every policy position, is the focus on environmentalism. This has come risen in the public consciousness following the two weeks of Extinction Rebellion protests, direct action welcomed by the Labour leadership, and features heavily in Common Wealth’s literature. There has been some debate in political circles as to the level of focus that should be placed on the issue – it seems the policy machine of the left has made its decision.

Having already demonstrated the strong links between the leader’s office and its directorship, Common Wealth should certainly be taken seriously by those looking at the future policy ideas of the Labour Party. What is of more interest for many though is what this focus on policy, with the backing of major unions, tells us about the Labour Party’s future direction.

Having been preparing for government since its surprise 2017 election performance, Labour is now looking to flesh out its radical policy offer by embracing various schools of leftist thinking which has taken off in the nine years out of power. While many have criticised the current leadership as representing a party looking backward at the hard-left of the 70s and 80s for inspiration, the Labour Party seems increasingly to be looking to how radical new ideas for the long-term future of the economy and democracy. The time-frame for the adoption of these ideas, and indeed the practicability of them, is open to plenty of speculation.

Where the Conservative leadership candidates battle for which ideas are likely to win the hearts of the electorate, specifically the young, Labour’s policy ambitions go further. And it is this which makes the launch of Common Wealth a key marker in the seriousness everybody should take the official Opposition.

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