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— Labour’s shadow ministers get the begging bowl out to fund their staff.
— Things can only get better for U.K. policymaking, the Tony Blair Institute will argue at a major conference. And Keir Starmer will be there.
— MP shareholdings are back in the spotlight.
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LABOUR PAINS: It’s tough economic times for us all, but spare a thought for the poor shadow ministers who are being forced to get out the begging bowl to fund their own operations.
History repeats: Opposition bigwigs reinforcing their teams with external staff as an election looms is nothing new — but reduced support from their usual union backers and lower income from memberships has forced Labour to reach out wider for support.
Abacus: That includes a whole host of individual donors and private companies, who in the last parliamentary session alone have provided funds of over £900,000 to shadow ministers specifically to pay staff salaries, fund foreign trips or support the work of ministerial offices.
That includes: MPM Connect, a little-known “investment” company which shadow ministers have been remiss to speak about; British businessman Trevor Chinn; and grocery enthusiast David Sainsbury.
So what? Well, Labour’s cost-cutting plan to rely on shadow ministers to part-fund their own operations has led to some significant imbalances in the size of teams — with some more junior ministers securing staff funding while larger shadow teams struggle on with the party-provided minimum.
Case-in-point: Shadow Mental Health minister Rosena Allin-Khan has personally secured £14,500 in staff funding from various donors — including £5,000 from Fifty Shades of Grey author E L James.
It means: Some Labour teams have just one or two political advisers to help shadow the work of entire government departments manned with thousands of civil servants, deal with press relations, manage stakeholder relationships and, y’know, help get the party’s policy plans in shape.
Comrades: A Labour staffer working on a shadow minister’s team said the situation was creating some internal friction.
Tension headache: “We are all equally slammed with work, but some teams are more equal than others … it’s definitely noticeable and it does cause tensions,” they said. “Obviously there is no complacency, but the party is in a strong spot and it feels mildly illogical to leave some teams sapped because they can’t, for whatever reason, attract those external funds.”
Hot topics: Another Labour adviser said while staffing disparities were not overly unusual, they felt the situation had been “exacerbated” by the party’s broader staffing squeeze, and said it had increased tensions between teams jostling for position ahead of a rumored reshuffle.
On that point: A Labour-leaning public affairs pro agreed that donors were more likely to be throwing their financial support behind shadow ministers with a bright future rather than helping beef up Labour’s broader offering…
Tough luck: But one former Labour staffer now working in an external policy role argued there was likely a strategic element to it all, saying that Starmer’s team would get more value from adding firepower to their central election team than saving the blushes of a shadow minister rattling an empty donation tin.
On the plus side: The staffing crunch has meant there is an increased opportunity for stakeholders — including public affairs firms, charities and campaigners — to get a hearing from time-strapped political advisers who are desperate for costed policy ideas.
Risky business: But away from the policy impacts, the reliance on external donors has got transparency campaigners spooked, with Rose Whiffen, a senior research officer at Transparency International UK, telling Influence the use of external donors to resource the shadow cabinet “seems fraught with risk”.
She said: “In theory, there’s a chunk of public money dedicated to helping the opposition frontbench hold ministers to account, so if they’re turning to private sources to do the same it raises questions as to whether existing funds are sufficient or they’re being spent on the wrong things.”
Broad brush: And Sue Hawley, director of Spotlight on Corruption, said Labour needed to be “very careful” that donations and freebies did not offer unequal access for consultancies and private donors “looking to get a foot in the door with a potential new government.”
She added: “If it is serious about restoring trust in the integrity of government it’s imperative they develop processes for leveling the field in terms of access … to ensure there can be no perception their policies are being or could be captured by private interests.”
ETHICAL LABOUR: Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has just put more meat on the bones of the party’s plan to overhaul ethics and integrity rules if they form the next government — saying the current reliance on “good chaps” has been “tested to breaking point.”
Pickles purged: Speaking at the Institute for Government this morning, Rayner said the party’s proposed Ethics and Integrity Commission will be established on a statutory footing — something the party said would end the prime minister’s ability to act as the final “judge and jury” in ethics cases — and made clear they would replace the current ACOBA system for regulating the revolving door.
Take that: The plans would the new given tougher sanctioning powers, with former ministers snubbing the rules facing reductions to their pension pots or severance pay. The new body would, she said, “complement not compete” with other groups, such as the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which she praised for its role in upholding the rules.
No rush: Rayner said the new system would improve public trust within Labour’s first term … but refused to say whether the new Whitehall watchdog would be established within the first 100 days, arguing an extensive consultation would be needed to avoid toppling the constitutional “jenga tower.”
UKRAINE MANIA: My EU Influence comrade Sarah Wheaton has dug further into the work of lobbyists in Ukraine following our interview with Rud Pedersen’s Myron Wasylyk — head of their new Kyiv operation.
Fast movers: She says Kyiv has become a lobbyist’s “dreamland” given the country’s desperation to attract foreign investment — with those early movers setting themselves up for a major role as more firms return.
SHARING THE LOVE: More than 50 MPs have had details of their shareholdings which fall below the current £70,000 declaration threshold exposed by the Guardian — prompting further questions over whether the system is fit for purpose.
Big names: The holdings include a range of banks, oil and gas firms, retail giants, and defense companies.
Self-policing: While shareholdings must be declared if above the £70,000 limit, MPs are expected to declare the details of any investments held by themselves or their family if they could constitute a conflict of interest with their parliamentary work — but as usual those lines are easily blurred.
ADAPT OR DIE: That’s the message for the industry from Apella Advisors partner Liz Lynch, who has been interviewing public affairs directors at Britain’s biggest firms.
Look away: But the analysis is that boozy lobbying lunches and sharing political gossip with the boss is not going to cut it in the increasingly complex business world.
But but but: Dry your tears because Lynch argues that public affairs is becoming an even more integral function for firms who have increasingly found that wider political issues can’t be ignored, and need smart advice to navigate the space.
Swat up: Her full piece in the Times is worth a read, if only so you can pretend they are all your own big ideas at the next strategy meeting.
SPEED ROUND: Top effort from No. 10’s business engagement team who have sent out invites for a Business Connect reception next week — giving busy industry types just six days to replan their diaries if they want to attend.
False advertising: Influence isn’t quite sure how a one-hour morning slot can be defined as a ‘reception’ and those keen to attend are probably going to spend more time queueing to get through security than they are at the event.
Reviews are in: One industry wag described the approach as: “Mad mad mad.”
THINK TANK LAND
FUTURE PLANNING: The Tony Blair Institute is hosting its second Future of Britain conference next week — with a huge line-up of speakers expected to chew over the big challenges they reckon are confronting the U.K.
Vibe check: Covering everything from planning reform to foreign relations, the agenda is broad, but the underlying theme is that the public knows the U.K. is failing to adapt to the pace of change and wants policy makers to catch up.
Big thinking: Speaking to Influence, Ryan Wain, executive director of politics at TBI, said the conference is an opportunity for Westminster to step away from its obsession with short-termism as the election looms.
He said: “It’s an attempt to essentially set out the broad strokes of a policy agenda that can build consensus across different political traditions and set the country on a path towards prosperity and improve public services.”
Wonk-ish: But Wain said the event would not just be a “policy jamboree,” arguing that discussions around the tough political choices were necessary to ensuring a sustainable long-term strategy.
Big picture: “If we are talking about the results we want to see in five or ten years’ time on things like pensions reform or generative AI, that is going to require acceptable on all sides of the parliamentary aisle,” he said. “I think it’s important it’s still political, but it’s not party political.”
Encouraging signs: Unsurprisingly, TBI’s postbag has already filled up with Labour RSVPs — Starmer will sit down with Blair to set the world straight in the first time the pair have shared a public stage together — but senior Tory figures are also planning a trip. Wain’s pleased with that, and think it’s partly driven by a increasing recognition that more cooperation is needed if the U.K. is to make the most of the new tech revolution.
Keep up: “Both parties have had long periods of introspection, where they’ve not only been dealing with things like Brexit and COVID, but have also had their own internal turmoil,” Wain said. “It takes a lot for someone to navigate that and then want to come out and engage with something like AI, which in the last few years has felt like something from a science fiction movie.”
But but but: The TBI policy boss said he was encouraged by the cross-party “appetite” for engagement, especially after long periods where Whitehall’s go-to strategy on tech has been either to regulate or simply ignore it. “If Westminster as a whole was not leaning into technology a year ago, it certainly is now — and that is a really positive thing.”
No rest for the wicked: And while there will be a big focus on long-term thinking, Wain said there are plenty of immediate opportunities for the party’s policy brains to consider.
Those include: Reforming planning rules to prevent infrastructure projects being blocked by local consent processes and improving relations with the EU to remove trade barriers.
Invest test: Another immediate priority is raising capital for U.K. projects, with the group hoping to convince Chancellor Jeremy Hunt that his plea this week for pension fund managers to increase their risk appetite needs to be more “radical” — especially given that Canadian teachers currently hold a larger stake in British infrastructure than our own OAPs.
Tonty watch: If you want to keep your peelers on proceedings you can watch the online stream here.
ON THE MOVE
James Lyons is taking up a new role as head of communications, Europe at TikTok. A former journalist, Lyons has built up an extensive government comms background — most recently as director of communications for the NHS.
Shaun Jepson is joining British Airways as head of media relations in August after a stint as press secretary to Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden.
Chelsea Whyte has been promoted to senior consultant at Rud Pedersen.
Lizzie Wills has joined GK Strategy as a senior partner working on private equity following a stint at WA Communications.
Mark Edwards joined CCHQ as a business engagement manager.
Calley Amelia Salter is starting a new role as account manager at Grayling.
Katya Hilton joined Our Future Health UK as head of executive office after serving as head of strategy at the Centre for Pandemic Preparedness.
Joe Smale has started a new role as a policy analyst at Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
Carum Basra has joined Unchecked UK as deputy director for engagement from Purpose Union.
Jobs jobs jobs: The Charity Commission is looking for a head of news and external affairs … Independent Age are hiring a senior policy officer … Save the Children needs a senior politics & public affairs adviser … The Road Haulage Association wants a public affairs manager … Best for Britain are looking for an external affairs officer … EngineeringUK are hiring a policy manager … and 5Rights Foundation are on the hunt for a public affairs officer.
Thanks: To editor Matt Honeycombe-Foster for the sharp edits. And to the production team for their usual magic.
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