E-scooters at a crossroads
E-scooters at a crossroads

Posts Tagged ‘Labour’

Labour and the Civil Service – Access Talks

So, access has been granted. One of the rituals of the run up to a British General Election can begin: the private, official talks between the Opposition and the Civil Service, which allow both sides to prepare for a possible change of Government.

When access should happen is down to the Prime Minister, and Rishi Sunak’s decision last week means he has already cut things fine for his opponents compared to some past Elections (2010 for example). But what happens in access talks, and do they actually matter?

To start with one thing that shouldn’t happen: don’t expect a running commentary in the press. Both civil servants and the Opposition are told to keep the discussions confidential, and past experience suggests this is one convention still observed. There are powerful incentives for secrecy: for Labour, it’s about message discipline running up to the Election; and for civil servants, it’s about building the confidence of your likely future employers.

It also helps to keep things secret when only a few people are involved. And this brings me to the first point about how access talks actually work: they’re tightly controlled and only a few people know what’s happening. For Labour they’ll be overseen by Sue Gray, and I think that will mean an even tighter and more disciplined process than usual.

Sue’s opposite number in Government is her former boss and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who’s now back at work. The first job for Sue and Simon will be to agree to some ground rules. One rule, for example, may be that a member of Keir Starmer’s office has to be present at every meeting. Only when the rules are settled will the shadow Secretaries of State and departmental Permanent Secretaries start talking to each other.

I was involved in access talks running up to four Elections from 2010 to 2019. My experience was they were taken very seriously by both sides and they actually mattered. These were discussions right at the top – between the shadow Secretary of State, the Permanent Secretary and just a few others on each side. They were an opportunity for the politicians to ask lots of questions about the department and the real challenges it faced, and for both sides to discuss the practical implications of big new policies. Above all, of course, it meant the senior people could get to know each other. On the official side the people involved were all very senior, DGs or above plus one (senior) link person, and the Opposition team was similar.

So given the secrecy and small number of people involved, what should businesses and other organisations with an interest be doing about access talks? Nothing directly I suggest. But this is still a critical time to engage the top of the Civil Service in every area: the approach just needs to be broader and more subtle than a focus directly on the access talks. Instead, every organisation should be asking itself about the evidence, insight and relationships that it can bring to bear, to help the senior people in departments through this phase and achieve its own goals. And there are plenty of lessons from 1997 and 2010 about how things can either go well for businesses – or badly.

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From crisis to opportunity – the Education inheritance for a Labour government

As the Labour Party gathers in Liverpool next week, flush from a big by-election win and sitting on a healthy 20-point lead in the polls, attention will turn to what Labour will say about how it is going to govern. 

For any incoming government, a major priority area will always be the education system. Education and Skills is central to Keir Starmer’s five missions and is one of the most prominent parts of the National Policy Forum report that will set the framework for the Labour manifesto. 

The reality is though, that from early years through to university and beyond, the sector is facing systemic challenges. Whether it is the difficulties in the recruitment and retention of teachers; the failings of the apprenticeship system; the rising funding pressure pushing some universities to the brink of failure; the spike in pupil referrals; or school buildings crumbling. There are crises to be dealt with everywhere.  

To discuss the legacy that Labour will be left with and what they can do to ensure that the education system is fit for purpose, I was delighted to welcome senior representatives from an array of organisations across the education sector to a roundtable discussion on what an incoming Labour government could do to break down the barriers of opportunity. 

While the demands and challenges from each part of the sector are considerable, some of the key things to watch out for that came from that informative discussion are as follows: 

The last time a Labour government was elected, its central mantra was ‘Education, Education, Education’, and the Blair and Brown years saw the Labour government take bold decisions and heavily invest in education at all levels, trying to make good on this mantra.  

Starmer’s Labour will not be in as fortunate a position this time and will need to make choices on where they can spend limited money and think creatively about how to use the resources they do have in a different way. 

For those organisations businesses and institutions looking to ensure that their particular part of the sector gets the attention and resource it needs, then you need to be able to make a strong coherent case, showing how you can make effective uses of resources and deliver opportunities for all.  

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Unpacking the by-elections – In Conversation with Steve Richards

WA Senior Adviser, broadcaster and journalist, Steve Richards and WA’s Head of Corporate Communications, Lee Findell, unpacked the triple by-election and assessed the implications of the results and what they mean for political parties on the first day of Summer Recess. Even though the temperatures outside will remain cool, something tells us this will be a heated summer break for political parties.

This morning’s conversation is the latest in a series of discussions with senior political and media figures hosted by WA, and we have outlined some key takeaways from the discussion below:

Immediate by-election implications

The results from Selby and Ainsty are an extraordinary win for Labour, marking the biggest swing since March 1990 at the Mid Staffordshire by-election, when Labour overturned a Tory majority of 14,654. They also reveal that rural areas and farming communities have become increasingly disillusioned in the Conservative Government and serve as an indication of what might happen on a national level – especially in the North of England – at the next General Election. Perhaps more worryingly for the party in power is the Liberal Democrat win in Somerton and Frome. Despite the Conservative Chair Greg Hands saying that Labour has lost its deposit during his morning round, Liberal Democrats picking up Conservative seats signals that tactical voting is back.

The results in Boris Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip on the other hand meant that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak did not awake to headlines which would have triggered immediate discontent and trouble in his Party. Sunak was given a protective shield – but it may be a deceptive one given the by-election in Uxbridge is characterised as a single-issue campaign. That issue being Labour’s own London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s creation – ULEZ.

Instead of euphoria, today the top of the Labour Party is feeling something more similar to anger. Anger towards its green ‘champions’, Sadiq Khan and Ed Miliband who have allowed the green agenda to bypass the immediacy of Labour’s cost-of-living platform. The results in Uxbridge have two big implications for the Labour Party. Firstly, Starmer will now face a lot of pressure to evaluate Labour’s green agenda to make sure there is nothing within it that the Conservative party can seize like the ULEZ charge. We have already seen two events that challenge that proposition, one being Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves pulling back on the £28 billion and the second being the back and forth on stopping all exploration in the North Sea which undermined and put at risk Scottish Labour who cannot go into the September by-election on a job losing platform. Secondly, the Uxbridge by-election highlights the fundamental contradiction in Labour Party policy of taking back control and transferring power to local communities – something Keir Starmer championed at the beginning of the year. Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Lisa Nandy described this as a historic transfer of power, and at the time this meant that moving forward the focus needed to be switched from central government to local authorities. The reaction to the Uxbridge by-election, and the ULEZ policy blame-game raises questions of who will be in control under a Labour government – the centre or the local. It also appears as though Labour’s over-cautious approach made the Party vulnerable to single-issues campaigns, and without an overriding purpose and mission to fall back on as the alternative, the top of the Party will be engaging in heated debates over the summer and leading up to conference on how best to tackle this gap.

Sunak’s glimmer of hope?

The Prime Minister can breathe a (very small) sigh of relief as instead of an unequivocal media onslaught, voices will once again emerge claiming Sunak may after all have a narrow path to victory. Going back to the ULEZ issue, the PM might also face pressures to water down the Government’s climate propositions in attempting to stay in the good graces of motorists. However, this will not be an easy electoral calculation to make. The PM is also likely to undertake a cabinet reshuffle, cementing teams that will lead the Government into the next General Election. This is because Sunak must at least try to convey a real sense of moving on and change. What the nature and size of that reshuffle will be is difficult to determine. Chances of Sunak sacking Chancellor Hunt – low, Braverman – risky, Barclay – likely, Gove getting a promotion – 50/50. If the reshuffle does not happen by the end of today, it is highly unlikely it will happen next week. So we can expect the reshuffle and Sunak’s attempt at reemergence in the first week of September.

A strong reemergence from Sunak will be a challenge as many Conservative MPs consider the Prime Minister an electoral liability for the Party. Why? To start, Sunak has not managed to cut through the public and many wonder what his political purpose actually is. Also, despite having a formidable office in Downing Street, the Prime Minister has not succeeded in managing the Party and is not doing any better against his five priorities. What does this mean for business? In practical terms, from September onwards the focus will be entirely on the election. The legislative programme will be carried over in September when Parliament will sit for a few weeks before dispersing for party conferences. Upon return, there will be a King’s Speech targeted solely on winning an election, featuring no significant pieces of legislation. Then all eyes will turn to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, followed by a cosy break for Christmas and then the Spring Budget which will be the last, and most important, fiscal event before the General Election.

And what about Starmer?

Albeit for different reasons, it is not much rosier in Starmer’s garden. Starmer’s reshuffle will likely come in September and will be a significant one. Rumours are Nick Thomas-Symonds, current Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade will end up in the Cabinet Office which would have interesting implications for Britain’s relationship with Europe. Angela Rayner might get the levelling-up brief, while Lisa Nandy could get demoted to Leader of the House. And what to do to about Ed? It is likely Miliband will keep his post given his and Starmer’s close relationship, and the fact that Miliband helped Starmer get elected. However, following Uxbridge businesses will have to carefully frame the dialogue around green policies and Net Zero with the Labour Party. While Labour’s overarching climate change commitment is unlikely to change, the Party will scrap anything that is remotely equivalent to ULEZ in a way that it takes away focus from the cost-of-living crisis, or worse, adds to the financial burden of voters. Starmer will look at every policy area from an electoral perspective, i.e., winning at the next General Election. A different challenge for businesses will be trying to delve deep to work out the gap between the surface narrative from Starmer and Reeves leading up to the election and what Labour will do in power.

The race is on for third place in Parliament

By-election results have also shown that after a troublesome few years, the Liberal Democrats are back as a significant political force. Depending on what happens in Scotland, including the by-election in September and the investigation into Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP leadership, the Liberal Democrats have a real chance of becoming the third force in Parliament. Starmer does not want to form a coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats, nor does he possess the necessary political skill to navigate the challenges that come with it. This may be why Labour are in Scotland every weekend.

General Election speculation

Despite speculation that Sunak will try to go for an early election, this is highly unlikely. While he is behind in polls, Sunak will wait. So the General Election is still expected in October or November next year. But before that, a major event will the local elections in May, including the London mayoral election which will determine the whole pre-election mood and be treated as a great pre-election test.

Our key takeaway – businesses should prepare for a busy first week of September and after that for a political environment entirely engulfed in the next General Election.

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Local elections tell a national story

Thursday’s local elections were the first clear and real sign of the political pendulum swinging back in Labour’s favour.

After months of doubts in the opposition that it was too good to be true, the results highlight the clear and real prospect of Labour returning to power. Meanwhile for the Conservatives, it paints a stark picture of the blue wall and red wall crumbling before them.

Local elections are the opportunity to check in with the electoral mood. They offer a partial, incomplete view of what could happen in a General Election, but one that points to a brutal ejection from office for the Conservatives.

Party faithfuls in both Labour and the Conservatives will point to the overall voting numbers as a sign it is still all to play for. The BBC national vote share projection put Labour at 35% to 26% for the Conservatives, a smaller gap than many national polls currently suggest. Whilst these headline numbers suggest a hung parliament, the results and mood paint a bleaker picture for Rishi Sunak’s party.

The Conservative coalition is crumbling

Beyond just losing the typical political bellwethers that signal who will lead the next government – for example, the Conservatives losing Swindon and Plymouth to Labour – Conservatives saw areas previously counted as safe seats for the party slip away. Losing Medway to Labour and Stratford-upon-Avon and Maidenhead to the Liberal Democrats is approaching a political catastrophe for the party.

Repeating these results in a year would leave the Conservatives with a shell of the parliamentary party they currently have. Even a minor improvement would not avert a painful loss for the government and it means they need a plan to respond to these damaging defeats.

Fighting on two fronts poses significant political challenges for the government when it is fast running out of time. With around 18 months until an election, it needs to find a blend of policies that can appeal to the shires and northern communities that made up its successful electoral coalition. This is a tall order and means it must find policies it can deliver now with minimum fuss.

Labour’s march to power continues

Meanwhile, Labour has passed its first major electoral test since becoming the front-runner to form the next government. With it will come even greater scrutiny on what it plans to do, and what will form the basis of its manifesto. Starmer and his team will take nothing for granted and will continue the approach that has built this lead. Newly controlled Labour Councils will offer the first glimpse of the party’s style and priorities, with the leader of the opposition taking a special interest in their policy programmes.

Labour will also have an eye on the other opposition parties following Thursday. They will be hoping the Liberal Democrat and Green gains reflect the electorate’s willingness to vote for the candidate best placed to dislodge Conservatives and therefore are swayed to vote Labour in 2024. Starmer and his team may look for ways to encourage this in the months ahead, and thereby avoid a significantly larger contingent of third party MPs that they may need to rely on in a hung parliament.

The national impact of local politics

For businesses, the local election is the restatement of the political expectation. Labour is on the march to power, with the Conservatives wounded and needing a significant change in fortunes to avert a big defeat.

As parties respond to the shattering of the red and blue walls for the Conservatives, businesses must be alive to the policy responses and political opportunities this has created. The competitive electoral map may be wider than at any point in recent memory and with it comes the prospect for new political issues and debates to come to the fore.

To discuss these issues and what it means for you, get in touch with us at

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404 Error: nationalisation not found

Nationalisation is back. Labour’s plans to nationalise parts of BT and offer a free national full fibre broadband service represent the most radical policy announcement of the election.

Should Jeremy Corbyn secure a majority, he has now pledged to bring all major utilities back into public ownership – gas, electricity, water, rail, mail and now telecoms. Such a move would fundamentally change the telecoms sector overnight with grave consequences for private network builders and retailers.

There will be much commentary on the commercial implications for the sector in the coming days.

However, it is also worth considering the political process that will be required to make this radical vision a reality.

Nationalisation: Getting the numbers

Firstly, it is important to remember that this whole agenda can only be delivered under a Labour government with a stable, workable majority.

Neither the Liberal Democrats or the SNP will back it under a confidence and supply agreement. There’s a long way to go in this campaign and the polls still indicate that Jeremy Corbyn has a lot of work to do to have any hope of securing a majority in December.

This announcement itself will be a major theme in the election going forward as free, high-speed broadband for all is likely to go down well with many voters.

The key question is whether it ultimately feels too good to be true and leads voters to question the credibility of a policy that will have a long list of detractors.

Learning from the past

But what if Labour do forge a way to power? How will the Party turn such a radical nationalising agenda into reality? Previous rounds of both nationalisation and privatisation took a great deal of time and political capital to realise.

Margaret Thatcher’s converse plans to re-privatise much of the same parts of the economy took three parliamentary terms to deliver. Ticking off Labour’s long list of target nationalisations in just one five-year parliament will be a mammoth of a task.

There are several significant elements that will require primary legislation for broadband nationalisation:

The political capital, technical complexity and potential legal wrangling resulting from just one of these three areas would daunt any government regardless of its majority. Yet collectively, even if a majority Labour government could overcome these three challenges and nationalise the broadband industry, it will only deliver one of the party’s five targeted nationalisations.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that nationalising broadband is perhaps the most ambitious and complex pledge for Labour to deliver on.

A juggling act

Let’s not forget that on top of all this, a Labour government will simultaneously be renegotiating yet another Brexit deal with the EU, scrapping universal credit, setting up a new National Education Service and making significant investments and reforms in housing, social care and other areas.

The reality of government is that some agendas will have to be prioritised over others simply due to – if no other reason – the practical limitations on time and resource in the civil service.

Especially on the topic of Brexit, there is a question mark over whether Labour’s broadband proposal would comply with EU state aid rules, though they will cite recent rulings on Ireland’s public subsidy for broadband in their defence. It could nevertheless be a potential stumbling block in agreeing a new, closer economic relationship currently envisaged as the Party’s preferred approach.

Finally, were this to ultimately go through, the government would find itself taking on responsibility for a plethora of tricky issues that were previously the problem of private players in the sector. The debate over online safety and the level of responsibility that intermediaries such as ISPs have for harmful or illegal content distributed over their networks would suddenly become an in-house issue for government. Questions over net neutrality – whether ISPs can or should prioritise bandwidth for certain sites over others – as well as the control and use of people’s data, would also be questions government would have to solve as the sole service provider.

These are headaches that no government wants to grapple with and while this announcement is a potential game changer, it’s one which is still far from being realised.

Even if it ever is, it could come with a host of difficult unintended consequences attached.

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