New Times,
New Thinking.

What is Labour’s first-week strategy?

Keir Starmer and company are trying to build early momentum.

By Freddie Hayward

Four days after the 1997 election, Gordon Brown announced plans for Bank of England independence before Labour’s cabinet had even met. Brown’s successor, Rachel Reeves, has opted for less shock and awe, more economic stability. Still, Labour is striving to look as busy as possible in these first few days of government.

The Tories, meanwhile, are cowering, as what remains of the old cabinet prepares their leadership bids and the party mulls over whether to take on Reform or the Lib Dems. This is the time, when the mandate is strong and the opposition is in disarray, for Labour to show it is taking action and progress those policies that will prove most divisive.

That explains why Reeves is today announcing plans to bring back mandatory housing targets, which Tory backbenchers tore down, and to boost building on the green belt. It was in the manifesto. Labour has a huge majority. And the party fought its campaign on reforming the planning process to build more homes.

Reeves’s speech is one example of Labour trying to bank as many early wins as possible. Add the decision to scrap the Rwanda scheme to the list. Ditto the Prime Minister’s trip to all four nations in order to reset the relationship between the UK government and the devolved administrations. Meanwhile, Angela Rayner will set up an office in Manchester, a signal of intent to engage with Andy Burnham and the other mayors, albeit one reminiscent of the Tories’ Treasury campus in Darlington – a fig leaf over their failed levelling-up strategy.

The Defence Secretary John Healey has been in Odesa to reaffirm the government’s unconditional support for Ukraine and announce a new package of weaponry ahead of the Nato summit in Washington tomorrow. David Lammy flew to Germany, Poland and Sweden in his attempt to “reset” relations with the European Union and secure a defence pact with the bloc. Wes Streeting readies himself to resolve the pay dispute with the doctors’ union, something that Rishi Sunak failed to do. Yvette Cooper is hiring a Border Security Command leader. Expect action on GB Energy soon.

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This first-week action in government is driven by the need to look as if Labour is doing something to fix the problems that made voters eject the Tories. Labour needs quick wins so it can create the space to deliver its five national missions. Keir Starmer has said he will chair the mission boards, which will be at the centre of Labour’s plans for the next five years. But for now, the priority is short, sharp wins to stave off criticism and build momentum.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

[See also: Labour must learn to govern like Gove to transform the country]

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