The Think Tank is Laying the Foundations for a Labor Government - Latest Global News

The Think Tank is Laying the Foundations for a Labor Government

In recent weeks, staff members of Britain’s shadow cabinet have sat with virtual strangers who had parachuted in to help them prepare for government.

The nine newly appointed special advisers have backgrounds in public service or politics and, unusually, are paid not by Britain’s opposition Labor party, but by a fast-growing think tank called Labor Together.

Their presence is the latest sign of how the organization is quickly establishing itself as one of the most influential think tanks in Britain – and how it could become one of the most powerful groups in British politics if Labor wins the general election as expected this year.

“We are a policy think tank and I don’t think there really is an organization like us. We are not a charity and we are clear about who we want to win,” Labor Together director Josh Simons said in an interview with the FT.

“Many think tanks choose not to be explicit about their policies and not to disclose their funding to the Electoral Commission,” he added.

The group has become a Praetorian Guard in Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer’s project to return the party to the center, which has taken it from the brink of collapse to the threshold of power in four years.

Labor Together was originally called Labor For The Common Good and was founded in 2015 by MPs including Steve Reed, Jon Cruddas and Lisa Nandy as a means for moderate Labor politicians to push back against Jeremy Corbyn and the hard left that was taking over the party had under his leadership.

Just 18 months ago, the group only employed a single employee, but now there are 34 employees and a broader network – consisting of employees, an advisory board and scholarship holders – of over 70 people. The plan is to hire another five to 10 full-time employees by the new year, and the organization is inundated with donations.

Josh Simons attributed Labor Together’s influence to the party’s worst election defeat in almost a century under Jeremy Corbyn in 2019. © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Simons attributed Labor Together’s influence to the party’s worst election defeat in almost a century under Corbyn in 2019.

“Our growth cannot be separated from the strange story of the last few years. When Keir won, Labor was morally and financially bankrupt and focused on survival,” Simons said.

“There was little scope or resources to think ambitiously about the future or to understand voters. . . So the idea was, can we create a space separate from the maddening pressures of daily life in Labor where we can reflect, broaden our horizons and look at the bigger picture,” he added.

At the time there was also a heated debate within the party about how best to achieve a centre-left government in Britain.

“Some, like Tony Blair, thought Labor was doomed, best abandoned, and we needed a new party, a fusion of Britain’s social democratic and liberal traditions,” Simons said. “Others, like Morgan McSweeney, thought the only way was to take Labor back from Jeremy Corbyn. We know who was right.”

Morgan McSweeney advocated a mix of left-wing economics and traditional social values ​​when he was appointed director of Labor Together in July 2017. He left to become Sir Keir Starmer’s campaign manager in 2020 © Shutterstock

McSweeney, considered a “tough moderate,” was appointed director in July 2017. Under his leadership, the think tank advocated a mix of left-wing economics and traditional social values. These later became a hallmark of the Starmer leadership bid, led by McSweeney, who left him in 2020 to become his campaign manager.

Since then, many of the left’s policies have been toned down.

McSweeney has helped deliver some of the Labor leader’s key internal victories, including changing party rules to double the threshold for nominating MPs for future leadership candidates.

A senior MP who has been involved with Labor Together since its inception said the group’s mission was to continue to generate “exciting new ideas”.

“Labour’s problem is that so much has to get through the leader’s office and Labor headquarters that this group can’t do all the work in Parliament, do the thinking for a manifesto, try to win an election campaign and then can think about.” The country’s trends in the next 20 years. . . You need people who spend all their time thinking 20 years ahead,” the MP said.

An example of the group’s influence is Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ “Securonomics” speech in Washington last year about prioritizing economic strength in the face of geopolitical uncertainty; Her longer academic paper on the same topic was published by Labor Together on the same day.

Reeves described the group as “an energetic space for bold ideas on how to make Britain a stronger, safer and more prosperous country”.

Rachel Reeves in Washington in May 2023
Rachel Reeves has described Labor Together as “an energized space for bold ideas about making Britain a stronger, safer and more prosperous country”. © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The think tank’s success has attracted a growing number of donors, despite the Electoral Commission finding 30 breaches of electoral rules involving donations worth over £700,000 between 2017 and 2020, blaming the group on “human error”. led back.

Early donors included Martin Taylor, a Mayfair-based hedge fund manager, and Sir Trevor Chinn, a wealthy Labor supporter and Jewish community leader. Since then, others have joined them, including auto glass entrepreneur Gary Lubner and Fran Perrin, daughter of supermarket tycoon Lord Sainsbury.

Sir Trevor Chinn is one of the donors © Shutterstock

According to the Electoral Commission, the think tank raised £1.74 million in the 12 months to the end of March, up from just £165,000 the previous year. According to Simons, “there are some pretty big donations coming along.”

The group’s period of rapid growth coincided with Simons’ arrival as director about 18 months ago. Since then, he has embarked on a manic hiring spree, building an advisory board and group of “fellows.”

The new hires include the nine advisers brought in to strengthen the teams of various shadow cabinet ministers, including Rachel Reeves, David Lammy, Yvette Cooper, Darren Jones, Louise Haigh, John Healey, Shabana Mahmood and Nick Thomas-Symonds.

The move is partly a way to pay external talent beyond the limits of Labor’s usual pay structures.

“They’re not paid particularly well, but it’s better than the starvation wages Labor staff get,” said one person close to the think tank. “There are many departments where (labor) policy has been so weak, and there has been basically no one who has seriously developed policies beyond a slogan.”

New arrivals to shadow cabinet offices include Jon Garvie, a former Foreign Office and Cabinet mandarin; Jess Sargeant, former deputy director of the Institute for Government think tank; Emily Middleton, previously at consultancy Public Digital, and Virginia Sentance, a former financial economist who was chief of staff at COP26 in Glagow

They were not universally welcomed. “I’m not exactly thrilled,” said one Labor official. Others question why an external organization performs functions that would normally be handled internally.

One Labor insider described the organization as “Morgan McSweeney’s Wagner Group” and accused it of waging “factional warfare” through its half-open relationship with the party.

Another called it “Sue Gray’s army,” in reference to Starmer’s new all-powerful chief of staff.

Sir Keir Starmer with Sue Gray.
Sir Keir Starmer with Sue Gray. Labor Together has been called “Sue Gray’s Army” in reference to the Labor leader’s all-powerful chief of staff © Typhoon Salci/ZUMA/Shutterstock

Simons admitted that the group’s rapid rise had caused excitement and that its structure was unusual. “There is definitely suspicion,” he admitted.

But he insists the group works “in the shadow cabinet, Keir’s office and Labor headquarters”. “Everything we do is closely coordinated with Morgan McSweeney and Sue Gray, as well as Deborah Mattinson (another Starmer appointee),” he said

There have been questions about the future of Labor Together if Labor forms government, but Simons argues that if it wins, the party will need capacity for even broader thinking to tackle major challenges.

“If you look at what is happening around the world, in the US, Germany and Australia, center-left parties have won elections and benefited from the implosion of the populist right. But they had difficulties in government,” he said.

“Labour Together works closely with organizations around the world to think about how we can tackle the biggest issues we face.”

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