UCL Policy Lab


Respect can provide the thread that pulls together Labour’s policy offer

11 June 2024

At our Britain Renewed conference, we joined with Power to Change and other partners to discuss how fundamentals of government need to change. Here Josh Westerling, Policy Manager at Power to Change, reflects on why respect has emerged as a key theme in the election campaign.

A photo of an old butcher's shop

Starmer’s first speech of the election campaign identified a need for a new politics founded on respect. He spoke with unembarrassed affection for an England that he knows well; that of Victorian red brick, pebble dashed semis, the rolling hills of the countryside, ‘the sort of quiet, uncomplaining resilience’ of its people.

In doing so, he acknowledged that there has long been a distance between this England and Westminster but that this chasm has widened to a point that we should all worry about. Windrush, Horizon, and Infected Blood scandals – all represent something that is fundamentally wrong with how we are governed. It is about respect, or a lack of it.

It is a message that should resonate. In ‘The Respect Agenda’, More in Common and UCL Policy Lab have shown that respect for ordinary people is the attribute that people think is most important in a leader. It is not just about politicians either, it is about our institutions too – ordinary people don’t feel respected.

That points to something that goes beyond the attributes of any one leader or any one institution. It belies faults in how we are governed, how our economy works, how society is structured and what we value.

Expect respect to be a theme that comes through strongly this election campaign. It could also be the theme that ties together Labour’s existing policy offer. As much as people may have been disappointed in how this has changed in the months leading up to the election campaign, there is an existing policy offer that Labour have put forward and that is likely to form much of the manifesto. What has not happened thus far, is bringing this together under a common theme – such as respect – that makes sense of a range of policies focused on different areas. Doing so can both provide coherence to the existing policy offer but also provide a direction in which future policy can go.

A Community Right to Buy is often spoken about as a way to drive down high street vacancy, and it is. But it is also about respecting the intelligence and knowledge of communities to know what is best for buildings and land in their local area.

The Local Power Plan is in part about delivering clean power as part of the energy transition. But it is also about ensuring the energy transition doesn’t just do things to people. It gives people a stake in the transition, and respects the contribution they have to make to it and make the most of the benefits of local renewable energy.

A Neighbourhood Health Service is about a new focus on prevention. But it is also about moving care closer to communities to close the gap of respect that can exist between large bureaucracies and the people that they serve.

Doubling the size of the co-op sector is as much about economic growth as it is about ensuring we have economic actors that respect the needs of their community and who can keep wealth circulating in the local economy.

The New Deal for Working People can be spoken of in terms of pay and conditions. More than that it is about having respect for the workers who keep the economy running, ensuring they have the dignity in work they deserve.

Respect can weave together Labour’s policy offer from high streets to the energy transition, the health service to the economy. In providing a common thread through the existing policy agenda, it also provides direction for future policy. Respect must underpin the political and policy decisions a future government makes. With the pressures of office and the heat of the moment bearing down on you, simple questions are needed as a heuristic to end up in the place you want to be. Asking, ‘does this show sufficient respect for ordinary people?’, is just as important – perhaps more so – than the outcomes-driven approach to policy and politics we are so used to.

We are likely to see respect come up again this election campaign. We might even dub it ‘the respect election’. Time will tell whether a respect agenda is realised and carries over into government.

Josh Westerling is Policy Manager at Power to Change.