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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Richards’

In Conversation with Steve Richards — An Agenda-Setting Return to Westminster

WA Senior Adviser, broadcaster and journalist, Steve Richards and WA’s Head of Public Affairs, Marc Woolfson, gave their take on an eventful first week in the return to Westminster including the far-reaching reshuffle of Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet, as well as predictions for party conference and the repercussions of upcoming by-elections that are all to play for.

The conversation is the latest in a series of discussions with senior political and media figures hosted by WA, and we have outlined some key takeaways from the discussion below:

Leaders attempt to get a grip

Over the last two weeks, Sunak and Starmer have been getting new top teams in place ahead of a critical political period. Sunak attempted to capture momentum heading into the first week of term starting with a reshuffle of critical people into critical roles. This has been dwarfed by a nightmarish back to school week with the RAAC scandal dominating headlines and Labour capitalising on the government’s perceived negligence.

This week, Starmer carried out an extensive reshuffle of his Shadow Cabinet, coinciding with former civil servant Sue Gray’s first day as his Chief of Staff. The reshuffle saw many changes made, including the widely reported demotion of Lisa Nandy from the Shadow Levelling Up brief – a move some within the party deemed bold, somewhat brutal, and reflective of Keir’s win-at-all-costs mentality.

Angela Rayner has inherited Nandy’s Levelling Up brief which is set to deliver a historic transfer of power from central government to local and regional authorities. However, whether or not this shift in power will become a reality remains to be seen, given the substantial financial implications.

As anticipated, the most senior members of the Shadow Cabinet, and those with responsibility for Labour’s ‘five missions’ remained in post. Ideologically, there has been a power base increase of (what could be called) Blairite centrists. With a focus on fiscal rectitude, reform to create efficiencies, and ensuring all policy commitments are scrupulously costed – a position Rachel Reeves and her team are ardently championing.

This reshuffle, combined with the 20-point lead in the polls, has resulted in an uneasy excitement within Labour, as the outline of the next government begins to take shape and policy development gets in full swing.

Party conference fever

Unlocking economic growth via industry investment, transformative tech and R&D and will be a golden thread running through each conference.

For the Tories, this focus is reflected in the news that the UK is expected to re-join the EU’s flagship science research scheme, Horizon. And Sunak’s party conference speech will be an important attempt to show he and the party have a vision that goes beyond the next few months.

Echoing the rhetoric of Blair’s 1997 campaign, Labour will lean heavily into the theme of science and technology to regenerate public services and generate growth. Shadow Business Secretary Johnny Reynolds is set to outline detail on the industrial strategy – how the private sector and government can collaborate to facilitate fertile grounds for inward investment. This, alongside the green recovery programme – championed by both Starmer and Reeves – is regarded as the engine for economic growth Labour is committed to. However, it is unlikely we will gain clarity on the finances behind these strategies until given the green light by Reeves.

Starmer remains laser focused on delivering his “five missions”, meaning any policy recommendations put forward by businesses should aim be framed within these ambitions.

Bellwether by-elections

The upcoming by-election in Rutherglen and Hamiliton is a pivotal moment for Labour in Scotland. It is a litmus test for whether Labour’s messaging is landing well in Scotland and if won, is indicative of the electorate moving in their favour.

In Nadine Dorries’ contested seat of Mid-Bedfordshire, tactical voting between the Lib Dems and Labour may secure a blue defeat, but the Tory’s could win on a split opposition vote. A loss in this seat will no doubt stoke Tory fears that the Lib Dems are gaining traction in the so-called Blue Wall and will have implications for Sunak’s campaigning tactics. The Tories will also put up a fight against Labour in the election for Chris Pincher’s constituency of Tamworth.

Looking ahead, the most important event in the Commons calendar will be the Autumn statement on 22nd November, followed by the Spring Budget in early 2024. It is expected that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will amplify the UK’s post-Covid growth rate as a triumph of the Tory’s economic policy that has then allowed for tax cuts. Whatever shape and size these tax cuts take, Labour will not be in a position to oppose them.

We are gearing up for an exciting, potentially election-defining, political run in the lead up to Christmas. To learn more about what this means for you, get in touch with WA’s team to see how we can work together.

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In Conversation with Steve Richards

WA Senior Adviser, broadcaster and journalist, Steve Richards and WA’s Head of Public Affairs, Marc Woolfson, provided their take on the latest developments in Westminster and Whitehall, and unpacked what this means for anyone seeking to engage with the Government and understand the potential priorities of a Labour administration.

This conversation is the latest in a series of discussions with senior political and media figures hosted by WA.

Yesterday morning, Steve shared his insights on the mood at No.10 before providing reflections on the Government-in-waiting and Starmer’s preparations to ‘take back control’ of the country.

We’ve outlined five key takeaways from the discussion below:

1. General Election still predicted for Autumn 2024

At the time of our conversation with Steve, the Privileges Committee had just released their report on how Boris Johnson misled the House. Following the resignation of Johnson and Nigel Adams over the weekend, Sunak now faces (at least) two challenging by-elections in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and Selby and Ainsty. Amidst this upheaval, some in Labour are hoping for a snap election.

Steve, however, is still setting his sights on an election in Autumn next year. From his viewpoint, although there will be continuing challenges for Sunak arising from this event, Johnson’s exit from the Commons marks a significant diminishment of his political prowess and danger to Sunak.

Unless we see a significant closing in Labour’s lead, Sunak will likely delay the election in the hopes the tide will change by next year.

2. Zombie Parliament: Sunak’s five pledges

Beyond firefighting a constant stream of internal upheaval and scandal, Sunak remains focused – if not obsessed – on achieving the five pledges he set out in January (halve inflation; grow the economy; reduce national debt; shorten NHS wait lists; and stop the boats). Halving inflation by the end of this year is a must as Sunak cannot afford to approach an election with rising inflation rates.

As a result of this focus, there is talk of a ‘zombie parliament’ at Westminster. For the foreseeable future, activity in Parliament will mainly be used as a mechanism for building up to the election rather than to pass any weighty pieces of legislation. As an example, long-awaited proposed reforms to modernise the UK rail industry have fallen by the wayside.

Ultimately, there simply isn’t much legislative time available to the Government with preparation for the party conference in October, and long recesses pushing MPs back out to campaign in their constituencies.

Anyone seeking to engage with Government on legislation over the coming months may struggle unless it falls within the remit of Sunak’s five priorities.

3. Keir and Reeve’s cautious policy: Nothing without funding

Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves are taking a cautious approach; every piece of policy is submitted to Keir’s office for scrupulous checking for any claims that might imply an increase in spending.

The party’s proposal to scrap ‘Non-Dom’ tax status – which Labour says costs the Exchequer £3.2bn – is increasingly the answer to almost any question about the viability of its spending plans.

But with Jeremy Hunt rumoured to be looking at announcing exactly this move in the Autumn Statement, effectively removing this potential uplift from Labour’s plans, Kier is especially nervous about any discussion on spending.

Labour is also being very quiet on their policy plans and recently rowed back on commitments in their green recovery programme and on universal childcare.

In line with this preference for fiscal responsibility, as well as Blairite influences at the heart of Keir’s team, Labour is driving their focus towards policies that symbolise change without spending money, including technology, innovation, and AI.

4. Labour and business: Now until Autumn is the prime time to engage with Labour

Between now and Conference is an important time for industry to engage with Labour if they are looking to shape the direction of policy.

Starmer wants Labour to look like the party on the edge of forming a Government by the time Party Conference comes around in October. Speeches will need to be policy-rich, trailing their manifesto, which is already being drafted.

Labour is sincere in its claim that its door is open to business. Industry interest in the party serves as a reassuring recognition that they are viewed as the next likely candidate to form a Government. If Starmer wants to realise his mission to get the economy growing faster than any other country in the G7, Labour will need close relations with businesses to achieve this ambitious goal.

Jonathan Reynolds (Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Industrial Strategy) is expected to announce further details of Labour’s industrial strategy at Conference, formalising their goodwill towards industry.

However, if in power, relations may be more strained as Reeves seeks to fill her funding gap, with the potential for businesses to face new ‘stealth taxes’. Industry will benefit from putting in the groundwork now, during a period when Labour is reticent to reveal any tax rises that may make headlines during the pre-election test period.

5. Public sector and unions: The challenge ahead for a Labour Government

Winning the election will only be the first hurdle for Labour. Should they win, they are set to inherit a challenging landscape, especially in the public sector.

Unions present a considerable challenge. Labour hopes relations will improve through greater goodwill and by restructuring who is involved in negotiations. However, as New Labour did in 1997, Starmer plans to stick with Conservative spending plans for the first two to three years, so will not have the money to meet the pay demands of the unions.

On the NHS, Labour’s plans have been ambitious but vague. Although they highlight scrapping non-dom tax status as a means to pay for recruitment into the NHS, internally, Labour knows this will not be enough. Moreover, Wes Streeting has asserted his ambition to ‘reform’ the NHS but has not defined this ubiquitous term. Internally the party is divided on their position over the use of the private sector to meet capacity.

Starmer is also acutely aware that he has U-turned on many of his leadership pledges, including plans to abolish university tuition fees. At present, the current model for higher education would not see much change, however, if in power, university schemes and the graduate tax are areas Starmer may revisit.

The theme of the first term of a Labour Government will be dominated by one question: where’s the money coming from?

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