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10 January 2020

253: The political realities of 2020

The New Year brings home the new political realities facing everyone in public affairs. But what are these new realities and how should we deal with them?

The December General Election changed the public affairs environment completely. Gone are the days of small / non-existent majorities and coalitions. We now enter a period of strong and stable government supported by a big parliamentary majority.

That in itself changes everything but it is only one of the consequences that we need to consider.

  • Big changes, quickly – the government will want to show that it means business from the outset. We have already seen the announcement of the Budget and a clear commitment to infrastructure, especially in the North. We are already looking forward to the National Infrastructure Strategy, the Williams review on rail and the outcome of the HS2 review. Infrastructure and the NHS will form the core of the government’s agenda. Aside from any genuine commitment to a One Nation approach the reality is that these need to be the priorities if Johnson is to continue his electoral success at the next election;
  • The first year will set the whole tone for the rest of the Johnson Government – everything that happens in 2020 will be focused on the next General Election. Not least because ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure still takes time to progress and voters will need to feel the benefit of extra money going into the NHS as well;
  • No more knife-edges – we have all become used to votes in parliament that could go one way or the other. Opposition to the government could come equally from the Opposition party from within the cabinet. That has all changed. What this government wants to do, it has the numbers to do. Johnson has the political authority to move people, change departments and reward those who he wants to see rewarded. There will be less emphasis, if any at all, on balancing wings of the party or ideological position. Whatever Boris says will happen;
  • Labour will be trying to establish its strategy – with the size of Johnson’s majority, Labour will be reckoning on being in opposition for at least five years. That means it needs to work out what sort of opposition it wants to be. That will consider both how it holds the government to account but also how it can reconnect with its former ‘Red Wall’ voters. These decisions will, of course, be influenced by the election of its new leader. You can though imagine Rebecca Long-Bailey being more consistently oppositional whereas Keir Starmer could be more selective in his opposition and even support for sensible measures;
  • The future of the Union – there is much less certainty about how the relationship between England and Scotland will play out but the initial assumption has to be that there will continue to be a level of antagonism between the two governments. If we add in more potential devolution in England and a ‘leveling up’ which is being suggested in the promised White Paper, then the reality is one of great complexity; and
  • A competitive space – with more legislation and more policy development taking place, this is more like public affairs as usual rather than the anemic, Brexit-only position of recent years. But that brings with it a realisation that more organisations will want to engage with government and across parliament. We will all face a much more competitive space for the time and attention of politicians, advisers and officials.

We are continuing to work with clients to advise them on how to work with the new political realities. There are challenges for all of us.

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