Robert Wright, Managing Director of The Business of Events and Davies Tanner looks at the opportunities presented by a Labour Government.
As Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer concludes the reshuffle of his front bench team ahead of an almost certain General Election in 2024, changes within his Shadow Cabinet provides an insight into what the events industry might expect from a much-predicted Labour Government.
With new Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, Thangam Debbonaire, directly swapping roles with her predecessor, Lucy Powell, who moves into the role of Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, the new Shadow Cabinet is likely to be the senior Labour team we see fighting the upcoming General Election. Barbara Keeley, MP for Worsley & Eccles South, has also replaced Jeff Smith MP as the Labour Shadow for Music and Tourism, who now becomes Shadow Minister for Clean Power and Consumers.
Thangam Debbonaire is the current Member of Parliament for Bristol West, a seat she has held since May 2015 when she entered parliament. She held the seat in 2019 with a significantly increased majority of 28,219. Thangam campaigned to remain in the European Union, describing herself as a “northern European socialist and a democratic socialist”.
With a UK General Election being forecast to take place in either May or October 2024 (the final decision being largely dependent on the economic climate, including inflation and interest rates, over the coming months) the direction of a potential Labour Government is beginning to take shape. We will of course need to wait a few more months before we see the detail of a Labour Manifesto, but for the first time in almost two decades, it’s now obvious that Labour have finally accepted that being in government is better than being in opposition. That simple realisation means that the current party of opposition needs to persuade the electorate that it wants to be, and can be, the party of government. And that means winning our trust. Something that will be crucial in the months ahead.
Winning trust amongst the British public will ultimately come down to ditching once and for all Jeremy Corbyn’s much feted, at least among left leaning voters, socialist policies, and presenting a Manifesto that is much closer to that of the current Conservative government, certainly in economic terms.
Several of Sir Keir Starmer’s recent speeches give a hint as to what his government might look like in its first term. In one, he said “”If that sounds conservative, then let me tell you, I don’t care”. I’m not sure even Tony Blair would have gone quite that far. But it does confirm what we have suspected for some time – that Labour must move much more to the centre if it is to win the trust of the British people and win an overall majority. In another he said, “We must understand that there are precious things in our way of life, in our environment, in our communities that it is our responsibility to protect and preserve, to pass on to future generations.”
Now, this could of course be a way to balance some of the recent criticism of Labour looking to water down some of their environmental policies, but given the real threat of the climate crisis, he must recognise that voters on the left will punish any Labour Manifesto that doesn’t have strong climate credentials and abandon both Labour and the Conservatives and tick either the Green or Lib Dem box at the polling station.
While there is a new and refreshed Shadow Cabinet, many of the senior figures are still in place, including Rachel Reeves, who remains as shadow chancellor. Reeves is seen as a safe pair of hands by many in the business community, and has dropped plans to increase income tax, at least until inflation comes down and the economy begins to grow again, so it is unlikely that we will see a return to the traditional ‘tax and spend’ approach of many of the previous Labour governments.
In another speech to the British Chambers of Commerce, Sir Keir pledged that the next Labour government would seek a much closer trading relationship with our EU neighbours. He alluded to a change in strategy with direct government intervention on “industrial policy” to promote the tech and green sectors specifically, something the current government scrapped after the pandemic. A return to the industrial strategy approach under both David Cameron and Theresa May, would certainly be welcomed by a sector who, in recent years, has been using this to integrate the value of business events directly into its own psyche and the UK economy.
While Brexit remains a polarising topic, and one of particular significance for the UK events sector, Labour’s position appears to be one of making Brexit work, rather than reversing any of the current legislation. This is important to Labour pollsters, given the view that eight years after the referendum, the line between Leavers and Remainers is much faded. At their recent Policy Forum, the Labour team proposed that there should be no return to freedom of movement or any kind of points-based immigration system.
While we may not see a significant move back towards the EU anytime soon, we should see the beginnings of a government who wants a reset with its European neighbours, and a more open and honest relationship, particularly when it comes to immigration and trade.
This is also true when we look at Britain on the world stage – another priority for the events sector if we want to attract major events to the UK and use our cultural identity and soft power initiatives as a force for good, as well as trade. Sir Keir has promised a reset of our relationship with the rest of the world with a focus on our reputation overseas if Labour does indeed win the next election. He told broadcasters after the reshuffle; “I think one of the big challenges facing an incoming Labour government will be to reset our position on the international stage. That is very important for our reputation, but also of central importance for growth.”
While the polls have consistently been blowing in the right direction for Labour for some time, his vision of a Better Britain is right now just that. A vision. Phrases such as “restoring hope for working people” and “opportunities for all” are reminiscent of the Blair/Brown campaign of 1997. But 2024 will be a very different time, and with a far more informed and cynical electorate.
If we are looking at an October General Election, there will be much more debate, argument and political twists and turns before the vision of 2023 becomes the official party Manifesto of 2024. A focus on the traditional Red Wall, which was painted Tory blue by Boris Johnson in 2019, will be a key priority if Labour wants to reverse their landslide defeat under Jeremy Corbyn.
Returning to the headline question of threat or opportunity? While Sir Keir’s direction of travel is becoming clearer, the details are still somewhat vague. However, we do know that he is committed to economic stability and fiscal prudence, to coin a phrase from Gordon Brown. He recognises that while Brexit may be done, it isn’t working. He knows that if we want to return to strong economic growth, we need a clear Industrial Strategy for the next generation. And he sees Britain’s reputation abroad as needing to underpin all the above.
All these factors play well with a sector which is looking for stability, economic growth, a better trading relationship with the EU and a return to our place on the world stage. So, on balance, we should not see a potential Labour Government as a risk. Whether it provides an opportunity is still to be seen, but we are more likely to have stability, at least in the short term, and a fresh approach. Also, given that the new government will want to be seen to be delivering on its promises, it will need to achieve its ambitious growth targets, which the events sector has proved can be a significant contributor to. At the very least we should see a more engaged government and one with perhaps a more sympathetic ear.
One thing we will certainly see, is a House of Commons full of new MPs keen to make an impact. We should expect a more invigorated and engaged House, which will certainly provide more opportunities for the job we are doing around advocacy and policy. This extends to the work we do as the official secretariat and Special Advisors to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Events (APPG), currently chaired by the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, where we currently have 38 Members of Parliament from all of the major political parties engaged with this group which acts as the event industry’s official voice in Parliament.
Here at The Business of Events we have been engaging with senior Labour figures and representatives for some time. Lucy Powell, previous shadow at DCMS, sits on our All Party Parliamentary Group for Events, and other Labour MP’s and Peers have been very engaged with the work of the sector but also, most importantly, with its undeniable potential.
We have also been working very closely with the business events team at VisitBritain, where we have been developing a new initiative aimed at bringing more international events and trade shows to the UK through connecting major organisers with leading destinations.
Our annual UK Policy Forum, which this year takes place on Wednesday 8th November 2023 at IET London: Savoy Place, is an official participating event for International Trade Week. With the support of both the Departments of Culture, Media & Sport and Business & Trade, and with the support of many industry partners, including VisitBritain, VisitScotland, ICC Wales, Cvent, The Belfry Hotel & Resort, RX, and IBTM World, this event will provide the perfect opportunity and backdrop for the industry to connect with representatives from government and opposition, along with policy makers and influencers, discuss the first stage findings of our industry wide policy consultation and debate our own forthcoming Policy Agenda.
The theme of International Trade Week is that of export, and therefore we will be working on content that covers this potential through both trade shows and event creativity, something for which the UK is world-leading.
You can find more information about the Policy Forum here.