DRD Partnership’s roundtable discussion, hosted by leading international law firm, Travers Smith, with Jeremy Corbyn’s former media spokesperson, Matt Zarb-Cousin provided clients with a critical insight into Labour’s strategy to win the next election and the policies that the party may implement from someone who had recently worked at the heart of the Leader’s office.
Guests were welcomed by Chris Hale, Senior Partner at Travers Smith, who highlighted the uncertainty that the current political climate has caused for investors, businesses and the general public alike.
Pete Bowyer, who leads the public affairs team at DRD Partnership, introduced the discussion. He noted that the latest odds were 10-11 on that there would be a General Election in 2019, and that Electoral Calculus’ latest poll of polls had the Conservatives losing 59 seats and Labour gaining 34. Taken together, this meant that Jeremy Corbyn would be more likely than not to be Prime Minister before the end of this year. It was crucial then that clients should be getting to better understand the internal dynamics of the Labour Party and their plans for a future Labour government.
Matt Zarb-Cousin started his talk with an overview of public discontent with austerity policies in the run-up to the EU referendum and how it was the “anti-austerity arguments against the EU that the Leave campaign successfully managed to tap into”. In order to address this discontent, he said that Labour wants to “create an economy where people live off work, not wealth” by addressing the division between those who own wealth and those who don’t.
Matt then went on to argue that the UK has been “missing a sense of national mission over the past 8 years for people to be inspired about. Labour wants to change this by setting out two main missions when in government. Firstly, to become the nation with the highest percentage of high-skilled jobs in the OECD by 2030. Secondly, to ensure that 60% of energy comes from carbon neutral sources by 2030”. He also contended that the big danger of the British public’s discontent is that it provides “fertile ground for the far right” which is a key reason why Labour wants to offer transformative change.
As ever, Brexit remains a topical issue and Matt touched upon Labour’s Brexit policy, saying that the current lack of progress in the Brexit negotiations stems from Theresa May’s unwillingness to support Labour’s proposed customs union with the EU. The only solution to this, he argued, is a general election. While Matt had some sympathy to those campaigning for a second referendum, he said that he feared “a second referendum could result in the public voting to leave again which in turn would cause a much harder Brexit.”
The floor was then opened up to the audience for questions. An initial question asked how a Labour government would go about gaining the trust of the British people. Matt responded that Labour would need to “be honest about what it could achieve within one term” and “not try to be all things to all people”, for example by being open about its plans to tax the top 5% and big businesses more. He said the antagonism that results from Labour being clear about who they are for and against can be a powerful political communications tool to get Labour’s message across.
Other attendees were interested in how businesses could achieve trust in the current political climate. Matt’s view was that businesses “need to make meaningful concessions that are not just PR exercises. People are quick to see these through these and criticise them on social media”. He was keen to emphasise that Labour has separate approaches to small businesses, which they want to support, and unaccountable multi-national corporations which are moving towards becoming unsustainable monopolies who dodge basic responsibilities such as paying appropriate taxation.
When one guest asked about the prospect of a further Labour or Conservative party split, Matt said that the establishment of the new party ‘Change UK’ will put off people who are intrigued about setting up a new party. He was of the opinion that “they should have waited until a general election. If Labour had won by a small majority and they then split from the party they would have a lot more power and influence, as well as a five year period to build their brand.” Time will tell if this proves correct.
The event was part of a series of events hosted by DRD Partnership that aim to give our clients and friends a unique insight into UK politics and the opportunity to discuss issues with key figures from across the political spectrum.