While the possibilities and timing of a potential Labour government remain uncertain, attendance at their party conference shows that the chances are being taken seriously. But what would it really mean for public affairs?
It was not too long ago that no-one was really taking the chance of a Labour government, especially one led by Jeremy Corbyn, seriously. But the General Election result, the popularity of the Labour manifesto and Corbyn’s own improved performance have all shifted the dial. Add to that the confusion of Brexit and the constant Cabinet in-fighting then you have a recipe for a potential Labour government.
Labour too is planning. Some may have scoffed at McDonnell’s talk of ‘war-gaming’ but it is difficult to say that they are not right to plan for what could happen. The role of Sir Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, could also be critical. He has already undertaken a review of the Treasury for the party and is now, along with other ex-officials, helping prepare the government for entering office. This is the sort of attention to detail that makes Labour look serious and may offer some reassurance to business and the markets.
So what would a Labour government mean for political engagement?
More intervention 1, regulation – there is little doubt that regulators will be asked to do more by a Labour government, across a range of sectors. Labour will seek to use the tools at their disposal to exert greater government control over behaviours and outcomes. Financial services will be an early target.
More intervention 2, state ownership – what form ownership may take is still the subject of some internal debate within the Labour movement but whatever the outcome of these discussions we can already see that utilities, rail and the Royal Mail will be early targets. Scenarios should be planned for and pre-emptive steps taken where possible. Anyone outside of these immediate targets groups should not rest easy. Frankly anyone involved in an issue considered ‘controversial’ should stand on notice of government intervention.
Education, education, education – the party leadership knows that trust is at a premium, especially among business audiences. There were notable silences as some points in speeches at business events at conference. Penalising business but instead they intend to penalise certain business behaviours. But they are being helped in this by the Conservatives’ apparent attempts to disconnect themselves from business audiences and interventions in the free market that some on Labour could only dream of whilst bringing some in their own party out in a cold sweat! So for all concerned, a period of engagement with Labour is called for.
So a Labour government will be all about impact and that is what public affairs should prepare for.
Picture credit: Athena