As the dust settles on the local, mayoral and devolved assembly elections and Hartlepool by-election, here are WA’s key takeaways for businesses engaging with government.
The Conservative growth into former Labour heartlands still has fuel in the tank. There is no sense of a government losing momentum after 11 years in power.
Far from it, it seems that 2019 was year-zero, and the appeal of Boris Johnson’s approach is still cutting through. The scale of the Conservative wins in Brexit-supporting areas also shows the lasting legacy of the EU Referendum, which acts as key dividing line, with Labour seemingly on the wrong side of it.
The promise of ‘levelling up’ now needs to be delivered in earnest. The race is on ahead of the next General Election for the government to repay the support they’ve been given in areas that feel like they have been left behind. We can expect a continued focus of government investment into the North East and West Midlands – further entrenching the Conservatives electoral position. On the basis of these results, voters do seem likely to give the government the time to deliver.
For businesses looking to engage with government, being able to demonstrate how your proposition can support regional growth and address economic and social disparity will be a crucial success factor.
Amidst the successes for the Conservatives, there are causes for concern. The Lib Dems gained ground across South and East England, whilst Labour and Green Party took council seats in Conservative areas in East and West Sussex, Surrey and Kent.
There a number of potential underlying currents at play. This may be the beginnings of a backlash from long standing Conservative supporters in the Home County strongholds against the government’s high spending, high borrowing and potentially high taxing approach. Significantly, the growth of Lib Dems, Greens and Labour in these areas perhaps signifies a wider realignment of UK society. Liberal, middle class, anti-Brexit, graduates and young professionals are moving out of London to affluent Conservative supporting areas, and are potentially put off by the culture-war messaging targeted at blue collar former Labour voters.
Of greatest impact overall, the Green Party’s significant gains highlight the ongoing centrality of the climate agenda. This is much more than just a protest vote or the defection of leftwing supporters from Labour, and will have all ‘mainstream’ parties looking over their shoulders and seeking to reinforce their own green credentials ahead of the next election.
With COP at the end of the year and the Government keen to lead on the world stage, the expectation is for business to not simply keep pace with the government’s targets, but to set an ambitious agenda and demonstrate how it will achieve a net zero economy. The government has set the framework, but business investment and corporate decision making will make the real difference.
There is no avoiding the conclusion that this was a bad set of results for Labour – despite Tracey Brabin securing West Yorkshire, Sadiq Khan holding London and Andy Burnham convincingly winning in Manchester.
Keir Starmer’s leadership is now under very real threat, although there is no viable challenger in the near term. Andy Burnham is revelling in his position as the ‘King in the North’, and has stated his readiness to come to the aid of the party when they are ready to call on him. The botched reshuffle over the weekend has not helped matters, and has exposed the fact that in addition to the hard left, there are a number of factions emerging in the PLP that implies more trouble on the horizon for the leadership.
Keir Starmer now has a major task to show to a worried party and sceptical electorate that he has the personal drive, charisma and vision to pose a real challenge to Boris Johnson at the next General Election. On the current trajectory it would seem likely that Labour are facing at least another term out of power, which could take them to 2029 (19 years out of power) before the prospect of a Labour PM is a real possibility.
Much now depends on how Labour reacts to this defeat. A descent into in-fighting seems likely, but there is the potential for a re-constituted Shadow Cabinet to land some heavy blows on the government as furloughing ends this autumn and the fiscal ‘chickens come home to roost’. For public affairs campaigners, working with Labour effectively help throw a spotlight on issues where the government’s record is lacking.
North of the border, before the last constituency results had even been declared, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP were declaring a democratic mandate for a second referendum and challenging Westminster not to stand in their way. Although her party fell one seat short of an overall majority, the Green Party’s 8 seats took the pro-independence representation to 70, against the Conservatives 31, Labour 22 and the Lib Dems 4.
During the campaign, she repeated assurances that a vote for the Nationalists was not a call for a referendum at this time but rather a vote for building a better Scotland post-pandemic. That didn’t last long.
Arguably, what happened in Scotland last week, could have far greater implications for the future of the UK than any local or byelection result, regardless of their apparently “tectonic” shifts.
And in a future independent Scotland, with an enormous deficit and high public spending, who knows what the implications for business might be – but we could make an intelligent guess…
If you want to find out more and discuss the implications for your public affairs and communications plans, feel free to get in touch.