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Stronger together? Labour’s lessons from the Pandemic

After recent unfortunate (if not entirely unexpected) performances in recent elections, the Labour leader Keir Starmer not only conducted a reshuffle of his Shadow Cabinet, but also commissioned a policy review to lay the foundations of what will become the next Labour manifesto, when the time comes. Although we don’t often comment on internal political matters, partially because they aren’t generally true public consultations, and partially to maintain our neutrality, we think this one might be worth a quick comment.

Led by the former Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, moved to the position of Party chair in the reshuffle, the first details of the policy review have started to creep out. It will be labelled “Stronger Together” and will, according to the party chair, “harness the spirit of togetherness” that emerged during the pandemic to “deliver the change that Britain needs”. Citing neighbours helping out those in need, volunteers in the NHS and the work of businesses in turning production to medical necessities, the plan will apparently set out a new blueprint for the country.

There are perhaps two consultation points that revolve around the review. The first is with regards to how the review will be written. Anneliese Dodds’ comment piece is keen to stress the engagement that will take place across the party:

“To meet the challenges and opportunities of the coming decade, we know Labour needs policies rooted in what matters to people in their daily lives: their concerns, hopes and aspirations. So this project will engage with people across our party and our movement, and with academics, think tanks and communities across our country.

We’ll be launching a range of events to hear from members and will work closely with Labour’s national policy forum, which has a formal structure to include our members.”

Although we would expect the majority of the engagement to revolve around party members (particularly in a party like Labour which has seen immense division over internal policy in recent times), it will be interesting to see if, in their desire to determine “what matters to people in their daily lives”, what outreach is done beyond the party.

We also think there are a couple of things that policy-makers in the party should be particularly alert for in considering the ‘togetherness’ of the previous year and a half, lest the commitment to use that unity becomes little more than a buzzword. Although there has undeniably been a lot of community-based cooperation, which is very laudable, the last year has also seen a vast increase in executive action being taken without appropriate scrutiny or consultation. In the early phases, this was often justifiable due to the need to take swift action to save lives, but we have seen it continue, often in places where it was no longer necessary, or could have been planned for.

In light of this, a renewed commitment to public consultation and engagement would be welcomed as a key pillar of ‘togetherness’. We have often written that the shortened, quicker processes cannot become part of the new normal in the post-pandemic period, and yet we are already seeing moves in that direction. We’ve seen major consultations on judicial review and immigration (to name but two) being conducted in only six weeks, far too short given the scope and importance of the subject matter. Other things aren’t being consulted on at all, even when they really should be.

For Labour to make ‘togetherness’ more than just a slogan, to make it mean something, they should commit more fully to fighting for proper process, as well as attempting to maintain the more nebulous community activity that inspired the use of the phrase. Done well, consultation and engagement brings communities together and gives them a wider and more active role in society. If there is really going to be a pursuit of ‘togetherness’, then solid, effective consultation and engagement must provide its beating heart.

About the Author

Stephen serves as the Institute’s Legal and Parliamentary Officer. Before joining the Institute Stephen studied Law at Bangor University and pursued a Masters’ degree in Aviation and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal. After this, he returned to London and was called to the bar in 2016 at the Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn, before deciding not to go into practice and move towards public policy work instead. Within the Institute, Stephen provides legal, political and policy analysis of UK and global current affairs of interest to consultors and consultees.

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