In 2017 there was a huge fiscal gulf between the two main parties. Labour was the party of tax and spend and the Tories the party of fiscal conservatism. It was an election of opposites.
Fast forward two-and-a-half years and the scale of spending announcements by BOTH parties is already eye watering by anybody’s measure. Notwithstanding Labour’s unexpected and radical announcement to nationalise Openreach, the Conservatives are opening their own spending floodgates.
Why have the Conservatives seemingly ditched fiscal rectitude, how could this play out over the course of the campaign, and what could it mean for businesses after the dust of the election has settled?
Two factors have compelled the Conservatives to change tac: a decade of austerity and the success of Labour in shifting the battleground on which they must fight.
Jeremy Corbyn lost in 2017, but he made up considerable ground over the course of the campaign by appealing to an electorate fed-up after almost a decade of cuts. Theresa May had a poll lead of around 20% when the starting whistle for the election was blown. This had narrowed to 2.5% by polling day with the biggest gains made in the final half of the campaign. Corbyn’s personal poll ratings may be worse than rock bottom at -60 percent, and the wider problems of May’s campaigns are well known, but Labour’s campaigning capability is not underestimated by the Conservatives.
This election was called because of Brexit, but the Conservatives knew that Labour would again look to move the focus back on to the domestic agenda. Hence the mantra of the Conservative campaign has been ‘Get Brexit Done’, while a steady number of booming funding announcements has been the resounding drumbeat against which it has been sung.
Conservative Campaign Headquarters is hoping that this harmonious combination will be music to the ears of voters fed up of Brexit and austerity and rousing enough to win traditionally Labour seats necessary for a majority.
The challenge is that by taking on Labour on domestic issues, the Conservatives have opened themselves up to an attack line of ‘it’s too little too late’. Johnson has sought to distance his four-month-old Government from those of May and Cameron, but the sheer scale of funding announcements has exposed other flanks that Labour has sought to capitalise on.
In 2017 Labour made a big deal about its manifesto being costed and the Conservatives failing to do their homework. It was a punch that didn’t land as hard as it could have because the Conservative manifesto was so light on the draw down from the public purse compared to Labour. This time round Labour is doing the same thing and it could be much more painful as Corbyn and McDonnell will again argue that Johnson does not care about the detail and cannot be trusted to honour commitments.
We are only two weeks into a six-week campaign, and we haven’t even got to the manifestos themselves (Labour’s is expected next week). For companies planning for the future it will be critical to understand how the details of what has already been pledged fits together into a wider picture of a mandate for government.
The dearth of funding, and arguably policy as a consequence, looks like it is coming to an end. This will present opportunities and risks for businesses across all areas of the economy, whether they operate in energy or education, transport or telecoms, financial services or food technology. Those businesses that have early insight into what could come their way, and when, over the course of the next five years from a government of any primary (or secondary) colour will be best placed to engage, adapt and succeed.
For comprehensive analysis on what the manifestos could mean for your business and advice on what to do next, please contact the WA Comms team at firstname.lastname@example.org.