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Keir Starmer Urged To Bring Back "GOATs" If Labour Win Election

Keir Starmer in Manchester this week (Alamy)

6 min read

Labour peer Lord Paul Drayson, one of the so-called ‘GOATs’ – Government of All Talents – of New Labour, has said that if elected this year, a Labour government should emulate the model if it is to succeed in recovering and growing the economy.

Drayson is a millionaire entrepreneur and Labour Party donor who held a number of ministerial positions in the twilight years of New Labour, including in the Ministry of Defence and the former Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. He was one of former prime minister Gordon Brown’s ‘GOATs’: a business leader granted a peerage to become part of a ‘government of all talents' in the late 2000s. 

Last week, Drayson joined the advisory board of Labour Together, a think tank which has been credited as a key influence behind Labour leader Keir Starmer’s strategy leading up the next general election. The organisation was founded in 2015, and Morgan McSweeney, who is now Starmer’s key election strategist, was appointed as director between 2017 and 2020.

With the next general election due later this year, Labour Together is expanding its own staff and board roles, bringing back a number of Blairite and Brownite government figures to advise on policy and communications. 

Drayson said that he believed if Labour were to win the election, they would need to bring back a ‘government of all talents’ in order to inspire public confidence and implement an effective industrial strategy. 

“I was one of the original ‘GOATs’... I was asked to come in and be a government minister after having been a tech entrepreneur for 20-odd years,” Drayson told PoliticsHome.

“There were a number of us that Tony and Gordon brought in from outside of politics to try and contribute and I think that's going to be necessary for any future governments, that we make sure that we get that relationship between the different parts of society to have well thought-through policies that can be practically implemented.”

Gordon Brown and Lord Drayson
Lord Paul Drayson was a minister under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (Alamy)

Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves have said that boosting economic growth would be a key priority for a Labour government.

“A changed world demands a new business model for Britain; it is an approach that I call ‘securonomics’,” Reeves told Labour conference in October.

“Labour will make the long-term decision – and invest in British industry.”

Agreeing with this principle, Drayson said it was now time for further clarity on the details of how this could be achieved. 

“Now is the time to work on the details of this, to be in a position where if the Labour government is elected, it is in a position to implement policies which begin to turn things around and give people confidence that we are a country that can can face the challenges of the mid 21st century and be a relative winner internationally rather than a relative loser,” he told PoliticsHome.

He added that while he thought Starmer and Reeves had shown “real recognition” of the need to work with industry, Labour needed to do more to inspire confidence in its economic plans.

Drayson was responsible for developing the Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS) in 2005 and announced the creation of the UK Space Agency in 2009. As innovation minister in the aftermath of the 2007–2008 financial crisis, Drayson told PoliticsHome he had held weekly meetings to explore areas in which the UK could grow and compete in order to drive economic growth again.

Now, with a general election drawing close, the UK economy is struggling with low productivity and the Bank of England said it expects zero growth for 2024 as a whole. Drayson therefore believes Starmer’s Labour should highlight “how previous Labour government decisions were taken and how they have affected today”. 

“Labour can show that it knows how to do leadership, and on that basis, you can give people confidence that politics does make a difference,” he said.

“I was holding meetings to develop the plan to stop the decline in the life sciences industry post the crash and to identify those areas where we needed to strengthen policies to help the industry grow in areas where we could compete.

“The fact that the UK now has real capability in gene therapies, which would have the potential to help drive economic growth, is because of decisions that were made in 2008/2009.”

The Labour peer said that while “geopolitical changes” had made the international picture very different from 14 years ago, he hoped that he could help Labour Together to “ground some of the ideas and policies that they're working on in hard-won experience”.

“I've seen over the last 14 years how the present government’s avoidance of having an industrial strategy has really held the country back, and I certainly believe that's a really big mistake," he continued.

“The world has really changed from 15/20 years ago. Whoever wins the next election is going to have to grapple with these challenges and it's clear that number one is turning the economy around.”

He described AI as “the next wave of technology change affecting society” and said that the Conservative government had “missed opportunities” when it came to rewarding contracts to UK companies.

“The decisions around regulation and policies where the government is an important customer really has to be informed by a proper understanding of the technology,” he said.

“To give an example of a decision taken recently which I do think is an opportunity missed, was to award the US company Palantir with the federated data platform contracts for the NHS. That is an area that the UK needs to have expertise onshore. And the NHS and the way in which public health data is managed is obviously very important to the country.”

The entrepreneur said he also considered clean energy and the transition to net zero to be an “important dividing line” going forwards, with a need for Labour to set out a “clear strategy for this transition to low carbon”.

As Drayson plans ahead for his new role advising Labour Together, he said he hoped to be a “critical friend” to the party.

“It enables people from different backgrounds to bring to bear their expertise and advice and to explore ideas, to be able to act as a critical friend to the Labour Party testing these arguments without them being official policy,” he said.

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