The Labour Party in opposition must present itself to the public as a Government-in-waiting, and the public must see it in that light. The electorate must be able to envisage the country being run by the Labour Party. If that is not a realistic prospect, then why should (or would) the electorate vote in sufficient numbers for the Labour Party to govern?
The Labour Party is a parliamentary political party. Its purpose is to govern so that it has the opportunity to implement its policies for the betterment of the country. While it can influence matters when in opposition, its ability to do so is significantly reduced as it does not control the agenda.
In order to be a credible Government-in-waiting, it is necessary to field candidates of quality to fill, at least, the principal shadow offices of state. Those people must be able to speak with authority and credibility on their assigned areas of responsibility.
The breadth of membership within the Labour Party ought to be a source of strength not disunity, because it means that the Party represents a wide range of people and benefits from the intellectual credibility and moral authority of having forged an attractive and accepted series of policies after having taking into account disparate views. It is rare for a policy to be conceived fully formed such that it is completely coherent and cogent at the outset and takes into account all reasonable counter-arguments. More commonly, a nascent policy undergoes refinement as valid criticisms of the original plan are made during the consultation process. The final result is better for undergoing that scrutiny.
There are three practical consequences of these general points.
First, before a policy is promulgated, it ought to undergo a rigorous examination process to ensure that (a) it is sufficiently developed and polished so that the electorate could make an informed decision about its desirability; and, (b) there is an agreed collective position so that once published there would be no dissenting voices (or worse, people who did not even know of its existence beforehand). These requirements are necessary in order to avoid a policy being ridiculed for being manifestly not thought through and undermined for lacking consensus. There needs to be discipline in both thought and presentation.
Secondly, government is a large team of people working together for the country’s good. Any Government-in-waiting must emulate that characteristic. The incumbents of the principal shadow offices need to have a public profile so that they can (a) comment critically upon the present Government’s policies; (b) advance attractively and persuasively the alternative Labour policies; and, (c) accustomise the public as to their suitability for government. The electorate is more likely to vote for a team that it appreciates to be experienced and to have the necessary expertise than it is to vote for the unknown.
Thirdly, the breadth of the Labour Party means that it has a wide variety of people who are in a position to help. Its very breadth is a potential for strength, because it can call upon people who have expertise in every conceivable area that is relevant to government. Too many of the current government are clearly out of their depths with respect to their allocated portfolios. When in government those shortcomings are somewhat mitigated by the expertise of the relevant civil servants. However, a Government-in-waiting does not have that luxury; rather it must engage that expertise directly. Labour’s policies should harmoniously reflect its multi-stranded membership.
The members of Labour in the City are skilled in many professional areas. They form a natural pool of valuable resources upon which the Labour Party can draw for experience and expertise.
Michael Edenborough QC, 13th January 2017