6 A.M.

The UK Divided



I spent two days last week in London. When I arrived, the headlines were blazing with a very 70s plan by Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn. I also had a long walk around London, with familiar landmarks now surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by troops with machine guns. Both were jarring reminders of a new normal: in a post-Brexit era, the world’s most open city has turned inward, by choice and necessity.

On the impending election, our UK CEO Ed Williams believes the Labour Party will grab around 100 seats, hardly enough to constitute the opposition party. The Conservatives will dominate the Parliament. Labour will continue its move to the left. It is likely that a third party will form in the center as the Liberal Democrats are too discredited to pick up the opportunity. Tony Blair is considering this third party as an option to return to the fray.

The Labour manifesto, leaked to The Telegraph, is nothing short of Back to the Future, with proposed re-nationalization of the mail, rail and energy sectors. All university education is to be free at a cost of £8 billion a year. Taxes will rise on business and the wealthy. Companies who have contracts with government can only pay the CEO twenty times the amount paid their lowest paid worker.

The security net has been tightened drastically in the wake of the stabbing of a policeman outside of Parliament. As I walked past the Horse Guards Parade, I remembered being a little boy in awe of the bear skin caps atop the soldiers. Today, the soldiers are dressed in full combat gear and stand watchfully. It is paradise lost, a painful recognition of the new reality.

Business is absorbing the meaning of the Kraft Heinz bid for UK stalwart Unilever, in fact a battle for the soul of capitalism on short-term versus long-term results. Companies are tightening marketing spend also in the anticipation of an awkward divorce of the UK from the EUROPEAN union. The latest EU demand is 100 billion Euro from the UK, which in return is demanding a tight immigration policy while maintaining privileged status for the UK financial sector.

Fifty years ago, when my father opened the UK office with his first global colleague, Michael Morley, I don’t think he could have foreseen such upheaval in the market. But he would be gratified to know that the London office (again No. 1 in the market), along with the rest of the firm, has dramatically evolved to help clients better navigate such turbulent times and the resulting shifts in the needs of their stakeholders.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO.

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