Archive for the ‘Public Affairs’ Category

General Election Insider: Starmer and Sunak’s Date With Destiny

Posted on: May 22nd, 2024 by Alexandra Stamp

After months of hearsay and gossip, it has finally happened. Rishi Sunak took to the Prime Ministerial podium in a drizzly Downing Street and announced that a General Election will be held on Thursday 4th July.

What happens next?

With the King’s permission, the Prime Minister will have to dissolve Parliament. Experience suggests this will be 30th May. From this date, all MPs lose their parliamentary jobs and must win them back in the election.

Before then, Parliament must finish any business which it deems vital, in a period known as the ‘washup’. The most important legislation will be expedited by the Government over the next week, working with the Opposition, so that it is not lost when Parliament is dissolved next Thursday. Once past the date of dissolution, all legislation which has not passed through will be scrapped and cannot continue to the new Parliament.

The five week “short campaign” will then begin in earnest and a period of restriction comes into force called the ‘pre-election period’ or purdah. This is a time when governments (ministers, who continue in their roles, until replaced) and civil servants will exercise caution in making official announcements or making decisions that might influence the election campaign.

Along with all the usual campaign speeches, visits, and endorsements, the parties will also publish their manifestos. Whilst there is no set publication date, parties have historically released manifestoes 3-4 weeks before the election date, with Labour’s and the Conservatives’ usually coming out within a few days of each other.

Party Leaders can also be expected to take part in TV debates and longform interviews with several broadcasters. The dates for these debates are not set, nor is the participation of the parties’ leaders required.

On the day itself, polls will open at 7am and close at 10pm. Photo ID will be required to vote, and the media will stop reporting on details of campaigning or election issues throughout the day so as not to influence the result. School holidays are already taking place in Scotland at this stage, which some commentators have suggested could be a complicating factor north of the border, while the Orange marching season will be in full swing in Northern Ireland by then.

At 10pm an exit poll will be released, the pollsters’ prediction of the result. From then on, it’s just a question of waiting for the result.

The big election gear shift, by Tim Snowball, Head of Public Affairs

While not the autumn date most of us expected, Sunak’s decision to call an early election comes after several weeks in which both main parties had already begun to shift into campaign mode.

Whether it be Sunak’s Policy Exchange speech, combining fear and optimism about Britain’s future, or Starmer’s six pledges (that his troops have not yet had time to learn), we already have a sense of what the tone and tenor of the campaign will be.

Do not underestimate the gear shift happening behind the scenes right now.

Until today, election preparation has been a theoretical exercise. The preserve of relatively tight teams within each party. So far candidate selection, the manifesto processes, and a few carefully planned comms moments have been the primary signals of preparation. Now that changes.

Each party has a matter of days to completely recalibrate their entire extended operations to election mode, with centres of gravity shifting from No10 / LOTO to party headquarters, and the significant personnel churn this entails.

Leaders themselves shift from decision-focused roles to communications ones, with day to day campaign control passed to strategists. The functions of decision making in Government largely grinds to a halt, and SpAds need to decide whether to stay in Government or join campaign teams.

Campaigns are governed by tight messaging, set piece air war media initiatives, and extensive ground war operations (now highly supplemented by digital campaigns). In the coming days broadcasters will seek to secure dates and participants for the leaders debates, with Sunak holding disproportionate power to determine how big a feature these will play in the election campaign.

Campaigns often, however, come to be defined by the unplanned. How a leader fares when exposed to the perils of public interaction in the glare of 24/7 media. Policies that land unexpectedly badly. The onslaught of negativity and attack from a hostile media.

Labour go into this campaign the clear front runners. However, the Conservatives will not go down without a fight. Jeremy Hunt has already accused Labour of “lying” about their tax plans. Expect attacks to get personal fast.

How Labour will cope with this remains to be seen. This election will be an acid test of how match fit Keir Starmer, Morgan McSweeney and Sue Gray have got the Labour Party. Nevertheless, this is their contest to lose.

With the launch of our Election Hub, MHP Group will be keeping you up to date with the twists and turns of the campaign. Please contact [email protected] to discuss how the Public Affairs team can support you during and after the election.

In conversation with Tim Shipman: Five things we learnt

Posted on: May 17th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Here are five key things we learnt from the conversation:

Personalities drive politics

The biggest takeaway from the conversation was how for better or worse, most political and policy arguments are refracted through the personality and characters of our most senior politicians and civil servants.  

Many of the political events of the last few years have been driven by a handful of people – many of whom view politics through their own ambitions or desire to do others down.

Theresa May did not understand the importance of communication

Perhaps not the biggest revelation, but reflecting how she dealt with both the media and her own party as Prime Minister, Shipman explained that part of Theresa May’s downfall was that she didn’t get the importance of the Prime Minister’s role as a lead communicator.  

Whether it was through stilted personal interactions with the media, or poor management of personal relations with senior cabinet ministers, May neglected her role as communicator-in-chief and failed to sell her vision of Brexit to the Conservatives or to the UK public – ultimately leading to her downfall.

Dominic Cummings a master strategist – but was too abrasive to succeed in office

Dominic Cummings is one of the most controversial advisors ever to work from 10 Downing Street – but he earned his place there, at least in the beginning.  

Shipman described him as being “touched by a form of genius” in his ruthless pursuit of a political vision and said that his work in Number 10 from summer 2019 until shortly after he helped Boris Johnson win a thumping parliamentary majority in the 2019 election may be one of the few times in recent years that politics has been done effectively in recent years. 

However, once settled in office his difficult to work with personality meant that he could not bring many key civil servants and politicians along with him, ultimately leading to his departure from frontline politics.

Boris Johnson did not fear Keir Starmer

One of the most intriguing insights from Shipman was his views on what lay behind Boris Johnson’s complacency on party-gate. 

Johnson simply did not fear a Starmer-led Labour Party, and believed that he would comfortably thrash him at the next general election. Why would he do anything but deny there was any wrong-doing and risk looking even slightly guilty, when there was no electoral impetus to do so?

Keir Starmer’s honeymoon will be short

A potential Labour Government needs to act fast if wants to be successful in Government. Shipman pointed to the fact that most enduring, positive legacies of recent Conservative governments – such as education reforms under the coalition – were all enacted in the first few months of office. 

Given the economic fundamentals and relative inexperience of Labour’s frontbench, events could take over even sooner – so a quick start will be essential to the success of an incoming government led by Keir Starmer. 

Our next In Conversation with: event will take place on 3 July with Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips. If you’d like to sign-up, place click here or email us at [email protected] 

Do Keir’s six steps mark the end of the five missions?

Posted on: May 16th, 2024 by Alexandra Stamp

This morning the great and the good of the Labour Party are being marched over to Essex to hear the Labour Party leader unveil his six ‘first steps for change’.

“But what about the five missions?!”, I hear you cry?

As much as any political campaigner hopes (and expects at their peril) for their message to be digested, the truth is that you have to keep finding ways to get the electorate to understand what it is you stand for and what you will deliver in government.

Keir has been consistent about setting out his broad ‘five missions for government’ that outlines what he and a future Labour government will set out to achieve. And as a former Labour Political Advisor I can assure you it’s not just a slogan, everything the party does is centred in this framing and all the talks around transitioning to government have these at the forefront.

Keir’s five missions set the broad direction for travel, whereas the six new steps show the immediate change Labour hopes to deliver in a first term of a government. 

The missions and steps broadly align, although the one new addition is that Labour will “Launch a new Border Security Command”. I’m sure we will hear more shortly in terms of what this will look like in practice, but certainly it’s a clear attempt to reassure the public that Labour will not be a soft touch on immigration. It’s Labour’s answer to the Tories controversial, much delayed and expensive ‘small boats’ policy.

So if that’s what the steps are, why are they being launched today and why in Essex?

Well, the fact is that the only person who has control of when the next general election will be, is Rishi Sunak. Although he’s said it will likely be in the second half of the year, and many are speculating it will be in October/November, it could be called at any time up until the 28th January 2025.

The Labour leadership, which has enjoyed opinion poll leads of 20+ points for around two  years is not content to simply sit back and wait. The PM has the control, yet today is an example of where Labour will attempt to grasp any control it can to convince the public that it is they who can deliver positive change for the British public.

During my time working for the Party, I heard many claim that Labour wasn’t clear about what changes it would make in power – an accusation that is often made to whichever party is in opposition. Days like today are a way to for Labour to clearly outline its positive programme for change.

Promising to cut NHS waiting times; recruiting 6,500 new teachers; establishing a publicly owned ‘Great British Energy’s company – these are bold offers that are popular with the British public. As is delivering economic stability after years of chaos, most notably Liz Truss’ disastrous mini budget. Moreover, reducing antisocial behaviour is an issue that often comes up on the doorstep when speaking to people up and down the country.

These six steps for change are something every person can relate to, and Labour hopes will be what they remember when they enter the polling stations.

As for why Keir is unveiling his steps in Essex, well it’s a sign that there is no longer any part of the country that Labour feels it can’t win seats.

There are currently 18 MPs in Essex and all 18 are Conservative. But back in 1997 when Labour last won power from the Conservatives they held seats in Basildon, Braintree, Castle Point, Harlow, Harwich and Thurrock. Tony Blair had found a way to connect to parts of the country that previous Labour leaders had struggled to. Much has been made of the attempt to woo ‘white van man’ – although a rather crude and simplistic description of what the party did, it remains a fact that New Labour did connect to voters across Essex and earned their trust and their votes. 

If Labour can get Keir’s steps to be as remotely well understood and popular as the 1997 pledge card, they will be delighted. Doing so will see them well on the road to No.10. Downing Street.

To conclude, the six steps are an accompaniment to the five missions, an indication of the first things Keir seeks to improve across the UK. And this won’t be the last time you hear of them, for they will be repeated over and over until the general election polls have closed. If you were in any doubt, the informal election campaign has well and truly begun now.

Josh Kaile, Former Labour adviser

Poor party discipline is proving to be Rishi Sunak’s undoing. But Starmer should be wary too.

Posted on: May 13th, 2024 by Alexandra Stamp

Last week, just before PMQs, Natalie Elphicke MP defected from the Tories to Labour. It followed Dr Dan Poulter MP’s defection just a week earlier and Lee Anderson to Reform UK in March. 

Whilst it is not the widely speculated coup that Rishi Sunak would face after the Conservative’s catastrophic results in the local elections, the phrase “death by a thousand cuts” is not far from commentator’s lips. 

From the very beginning of his premiership, Sunak has struggled to keep his party under control. Nadine Dorries, committed Johnsonian, declared “history will not judge you kindly” to her leader; Suella Braverman told the Prime Minister that “Someone needs to be honest: your plan is not working, we have endured record election defeats, your resets have failed and we are running out of time”; and more recently Simon Clarke said “Rishi Sunak is leading the Conservatives into an election where we will be massacred”. 

This lack of party discipline is not entirely Sunak’s fault. The Conservatives have been in government for 14 years, Tory MPs are gloomy about their electoral prospects and the MPs who united over delivering Brexit in 2019 have begun to realise that the broad coalition they created might be too broad to maintain. 

Sunak faces a catch-22. If he tacks to the right to allay fears that Reform UK is stealing Tory votes, he risks unsettling the base of mainstream Tory MP support that brought him into No. 10 unchallenged. Yet if he shifts towards the centre, he will further enrage the likes of Suella Braverman and the right of his party. In his current position, he is satisfying no one and the threat of further defections looms large.

A plague on both your houses?  

It’s not just an issue for Sunak though. Natalie Elphicke’s defection is also posing problems for the Leader of the Opposition. 

Labour backbenchers have been vocal behind closed doors (and in public) about their views on her “Damascene conversion”. Many cite Elphicke’s criticisms of Marcus Rashford’s campaign against child food poverty (Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves memorably told Elphicke to “f*ck off” over these comments) and her fervent attacks on Labour’s plans for immigration as cause for concern. Moreover, there is widespread anger amongst female Labour MPs and staffers over Elphicke’s defence of her former MP husband, Charlie Elphicke, after his conviction for sexual assault in 2020. Starmer has made the short-term political calculation that a defection makes a good headline. Whether he and his team mapped out the effect it would have on his party is less clear. 

It is difficult to imagine Rishi Sunak inviting a controversial opposition figure into the Conservative Party without facing threats of a leadership challenge; the fact that Starmer is willing and able to make such an internally controversial move is a sign of his leadership’s comparative strength. Though there is clear unhappiness within the Parliamentary Labour Party, Starmer is assured enough in his position to ride out any criticism. 

In an effort to limit the damage, Deputy Leader Angela Rayner has been sent out to tell backbenchers that Elphicke will have no “formal role” in the party, but the allegations that Elphicke lobbied her former Government colleagues in an effort to delay her ex-husband’s trial won’t help the Labour leadership to keep the dissent in check. 

Nonetheless, by sending his Deputy Leader out to talk to the troops, Starmer appears to have learnt from previous mishaps that it’s better to head off any discontent before a full-throated uproar develops. 

This learning curve came in part from the difficulty he faced in keeping his party together over the conflict in the Middle East. When the Labour leader and his Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy began to call explicitly for an “immediate ceasefire” it was not just a reflection of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but also a desire to prove to his backbenchers that he was alert to their discontent over his initial hesitancy.  

The crunch point for Starmer came in February, when the SNP put a motion to Parliament calling for a ceasefire. Partly in an effort to destabilise Labour, the SNP hoped to entice MPs to vote against their whip and support the motion. Faced with front bench resignations, Labour controversially tabled their own motion calling for a ceasefire. The move enraged other Parliamentarians, but quelled concerns within Labour; for now, the danger for Starmer from his own backbenches seems to have passed. 

Indeed, party discipline under Starmer is, for the most part, far better than under Sunak. In the same way the prospect of heavy defeat is damaging Conservative Party discipline, the prospect of power is holding the Labour Party together. The far left are maintaining their silence over Starmer’s leadership, and public red-on-red criticism is almost non-existent. Though trade union leaders such as Unite’s Sharon Graham are beginning to dig in over rumours that Labour will water down their proposed workers’ rights package ‘A New Deal for Working People’, they too have kept their criticisms of Starmer to a minimum. The British left seem determined to focus fire on the Tories. 

So long as he can maintain this fragile truce between his party’s internal factions, Starmer will continue to exploit the Conservative’s division more effectively than the Prime Minister can seek to emphasise Labour’s. 

Divided parties don’t win elections, and both leaders must be wary of their relationships with their parties. With anticipation rising for a general election, a febrile atmosphere has descended on Parliament in time for Summer. Amidst these tensions, managing backbenchers eager to get an election over with will not get any easier. 

Political Insider: Humza Yousaf resigns as Scottish First Minister

Posted on: April 29th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Half a week is a long time in politics. Last Thursday, Humza Yousaf summoned Scottish Green Ministers Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater to Bute House and informed them that their party’s services were no longer required in his SNP minority Government, formally ending their 2021 power-sharing agreement (the Bute House Agreement). Just a week later, Yousaf has been forced to resign, admitting that he “clearly underestimated the amount of upset and hurt” that he caused the Greens. So how did ditching a party of 7 in a Parliament of 129 force Yousaf out?

Following the Scottish Government’s dropping of a key pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 203

0, the Scottish Greens announced they were going to put the Bute House Agreement to a membership vote. In anticipation of a negative result, Yousaf pre-emptively ditched the cooperation pact between them, sparking deep upset and anger within Green Party circles.

Spotting an opportunity, no confidence votes in the Scottish Government and Yousaf as First Minister were called by the Conservatives and Labour parties and backed by the Greens and Lib Dems. After doing the political arithmetic, Yousaf came to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to survive them and resigned, sparking off a leadership contest.

As it stands, there are several front runners to take over as SNP leader and First Minister: Kate Forbes, former Finance Secretary and runner-up in the 2023 SNP leadership contest, would represent a departure from the Salmond-Sturgeon dynasty with her socially conservative views. John Swinney, former party leader and Sturgeon’s deputy, is seen as a safe pair of hands by the party. Jenny Gilruth, Scottish Education Secretary, and Neil Gray, Scottish Health Secretary are also seen as potential candidates.

Yousaf has committed to staying on as First Minister until his successor is elected “as soon as possible”, having learnt a vital political lesson: always make sure you have the numbers.

Labour Analysis

Joshua Kaile, Public Affairs, Associate Director and former Labour Party advisor

After 17 years remarkable years of power in Scotland, today feels like it could potentially be the beginning of the end to SNP rule.

Just 15 months ago this would have seemed like an almost laughable proposition, but the fall has come about almost as sharply as their rise to total political dominance in Scotland.

Today’s resignation from First Minister Humza Yousaf was moving at times, with personal reflections and tears in his speech. He reflected on his political miscalculation last week that has seen the abrupt end to his brief premiership. He might have outlasted the lettuce, but he has ultimately been defeated by the Greens.

Humza appears to have fatally misjudged how much ill-feeling could come from his decision to terminate the Bute House Agreement between the SNP and their coalition partners the Scottish Greens. That misjudgement has ended his leadership, but it may have also irreparably damaged his Party, with no opposition group particularly keen to bail them out of the hole that has been dug.

Then there is the ongoing investigation into the SNP’s finances which has seen the former Chief Executive of the SNP, and husband to former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, re-arrested this month.

Labour are particularly keen to capitalise on the struggles in the SNP, both in Holyrood elections and Westminster. Earlier this month Labour overtook the SNP in Scottish Westminster polls for the first time since the independece referendum a decade ago, leading by 33% to 33%. The SNP were faring slightly better in Holyrood polls, leading Labour by 28% to 25%, but that is likely to change in light of recent events.

We are likely to hear Keir Starner and Labour in Westminster comparing the chaos in both the Tories and SNP, urging for elections in both Parliaments allowing for the puiblic to vote for change. Whilst there are clear differences between both, Labour will compare political leaderships that have been in power for 14 and 17 years respectfully, and now seemingly putting their party before the country.

The new leader of the SNP, whoever they pick, has an almighty task ahead of them to turn around the fortunes of the Scottish National Party with a resurgent Labour Party snapping at their heels.

Conservative Analysis

Mario Creatura, Director, Public Affairs and former Conservative Downing Street Special Advisor

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon built the SNP into a seemingly unstoppable political force, dominating Scottish politics with an iron grip on the electorate.

In that context, Labour were essentially locked out of Scotland – unable to win constituencies north of the border, they’d instead need to wrestle control of the Red Wall and Home Counties constituencies from the Conservatives to gain the keys to Downing Street.

That was until Humza Yousaf became First Minister. Elected in the midst of Sturgeon’s scandal, he was always going to find it difficult to lead an SNP/Green coalition in Holyrood.

His poor political decision-making and perceived weakness has boosted Labour morale in recent months, leading them to hope they could take a decent clutch of constituencies in Scotland, reducing pressure on the need to perform well in England.

With Yousaf gone, all eyes will be turned to who comes next. Will the SNP pick someone with the nationalist fire of Salmond and Sturgeon? Will they pick a powerful communicator with a nous for navigating the social issues at the heart of Scottish political debate? In short: will they pick someone that can help the SNP regain control of the narrative, and solidify their crumbling support in key constituencies?

This could be significant. If polls start to close when the election is called then Starmer failing to win as many Scottish seats as previously hoped might make all the difference to the size of his Parliamentary majority.

Whether it’s a speedbump on Labour’s drive to power, or a far more impactful obstacle to scale, will depend on who the SNP pick as the next resident of Bute House.

No pressure.

MHP will be keeping you up to date with the latest news and analysis in this important election year. Please contact [email protected] for further information.

 

Political Insider: Overview of the Innovate Finance Global Summit

Posted on: April 16th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

The Innovate Finance Global Summit (IFGS) celebrated its tenth anniversary this week with leading fintechs, policymakers and investors coming together at London’s Guildhall to discuss the future of UK fintech. Yesterday – the first day of the two-day summit – saw the Prime Minister make an appearance, albeit via video message, to herald the ‘power of technology to make life better for everyone’.

One of the leading themes this year was innovation, and how to encourage technological development through a suitable regulatory environment that provides effective consumer protection. The keynote speakers from Westminster – Bim Afolami MP, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and Tulip Siddiq MP, Afolami’s Labour Shadow – certainly reinforced the theme throughout their presentations.

For Siddiq, her speech earlier this afternoon was another opportunity to showcase Labour’s vision for financial services, and to woo the sector. Labour’s positioning of itself as the party to be trusted with the economy was reflected in her call for industry to contact her with ideas for Labour’s first 100 days in office… although, it may also be argued this shows the Party is desperate for ideas on how a fiscally constrained Labour administration can achieve its central mission of economic growth.

Day one – 15th April

Bim Afolami, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, gave the opening keynote speech of the day. He highlighted the might of the UK fintech sector, which attracted nearly $5 billion in investment in 2023 (second only to the US). With 86% of digitally active adults in the UK using fintech services, Afolami emphasised the government’s recognition of the sector’s potential to drive economic growth and job creation

To support innovation, the government is developing a regulatory framework for financial data sharing based on fairness, partnership, and safety, and is considering recommendations from the Centre for Finance, Innovation and Technology (CFIT) on open finance. Moreover, Afolami announced the formation of the Open Finance Taskforce (whose inaugural meeting took place at IFGS 2024), the upcoming publication of the National Payments Vision (due before the summer recess, in mid-to-late July), and the government’s focus of putting in place legislation for regulating stablecoin by July 2024 – while emphasising the Conservatives’ commitment to creating a regulatory environment that protects consumers while allowing firms to innovate

The keynote speaker Sarah Breedon, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, outlined how the Bank is preparing for the radical changes in money and payments that are being driven by rapid technological innovation, aiming to harness the benefits while ensuring consumer safety. This summer the Bank will publish a discussion paper on the payments landscape to gather input and encourage greater collaboration with industry players – the findings from which support HMT’s work in setting out a National Payments Vision.

In other headline news from the day, Innovate Finance’s Unicorn Council for UK FinTech published its six recommendations for policymakers which are designed to maintain the UK’s leading global position in fintech. Core recommendations include the abolition of Stamp Duty, a rethink to regulation, broadening of the tax R&D scheme and business asset disposal relief. The Council also called for updates to the EMI and EIS schemes, as well as the introduction of a VAT-rebate scheme for early stage fintechs.

Day two – 16th April

Today, Tulip Siddiq, Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury, outlined Labour’s vision for the future of the fintech sector, reiterating the commitments made in the Financial Services Review published in January. A Labour government would provide greater support for international firms to set up in regions across the UK, as well as a skills plan to support, among others, women in fintech.

On regulation, Siddiq echoed the sentiments made by Afolami the day before – that regulation must allow firms to innovate. An effective regulatory environment would help deliver regional growth and empower consumers, and a Labour government will seek to streamline regulation and update the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) 10,000 page regulatory handbook. Moreover, Labour would establish a Regulatory Innovation Office to ensure accountability and transparency in regulatory performance, particularly concerning secondary competitiveness objectives, as well as identifying overlaps in the mandates of different regulators. Finally, Siddiq said Labour would introduce regulation for the Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) industry, reflecting the Party’s commitment to consumer protection.

Other leading news from the day is the speech from the chair of the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR), Aidene Walsh, who provided her reflections on the last year at PSR. She highlighted how 10% of all fintechs currently reside in the UK, outstripping the number in all EU countries combined. This is predicted to increase to 12% by 2030, provided the regulatory environment remains favourable. Ensuring regulation encourages innovation and growth is a core focus of PSR and it is working with industry leaders to achieve this.

Walsh discussed the substantial progress the UK has made on encouraging the adoption of Open Banking, such as HMRC recently making history by becoming the first tax authority in the world to integrate Open Banking into its systems. She also mentioned PSR’s work with FCA to promote change and innovation in the retail payment sector, noting her ambition for Open Banking to create effective competition to cards and retail payments. Walsh also stated her belief that the soon-to-be-published National Payments Vision will set the scene for innovation in the UK fintech sector.

For further information, please contact: [email protected]

Political Insider: Rachel Reeves’ economic vision for the UK

Posted on: March 20th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

A prestigious rite of passage for Shadow Chancellors before her, Reeves drew parallels to 1970s Britain, arguing that we are in a moment of flux, and that the solution is an “active government” underpinned by theories of “Securonomics” and driven by three imperatives: stability, investment, and reform.

What did we learn from the Shadow Chancellor?

Securonomics

  • Drawing comparisons to Harvard Economist Dani Rodrick’s “new productivist paradigm” and the Biden administration’s commitment to “modern supply side economics”, Reeves defined Securonomics as a broad-based “platform from which to take risks” and embrace change with stability of action.
  • Spoke of the benefits of an “active” and “strategic” (“not big”) state, which she suggested was an economic imperative to protect Britain from global instability.

Stability

  • Pledged that a Labour government would retain a 2% inflation target.
  • Labour would make financial institutions and FTSE 100 companies publish carbon footprints and would create a UK green taxonomy.
  • Recognised that businesses need stability in tax, she also pledged that Labour would hold a single autumn budget every year; cap incorporation tax at 25% and row back on business taxation for the duration of parliament.
  • Labour would move the current budget into balance and would target government debt to fall as a % of GDP by the fifth year of the OBR’s forecast.
  • Labour would end the changing of fiscal rules, adding an escape clause that would only be used to suspend existing tax rules if the OBR could officially declare the UK was in an economic crisis.
  • Commented that Labour would focus on day-to-day spending, prioritising investment within a framework which would get debt falling at a share of our GDP over the medium term.
  • Noted that Labour would reverse the current Chancellor’s decision to remove climate change from a list of four objectives for the Financial Policy Committee and Monetary Policy Committee.

Partnership with businesses to encourage investment

  • Noted Labour’s desire to work with business to identify areas where Britain can develop comparative advantage.
  • Pledged that Labour would review the pension system to ensure that it is serving British savers and UK plcs.
  • Labour would end the practice of one-to-three-year funding cycles for key Research and Development institutions, instead outlining 10 year budgets which would allow for meaningful partnership with industry.
  • Commented Labour would work with universities to make sure spin outs can attract private capital.

Reform

  • Suggested that our current planning system is a barrier to economic growth and home ownership, pledging that Labour would carry out a once in a generation overhaul of nationally significant projects, updating all national policy statements within six months of coming into office to reflect the type of infrastructure crucial to our economy.
  • Labour would reintroduce mandatory local housing targets, and recruit hundreds of new town planners to tackle the backlog.
  • Highlighted the benefit of decentralisation, correlating it with higher investment, stronger growth possibilities and better educational outcomes. She said that Labour would give greater economic power to regional and local leaders, who “know their leads and assets best.”
  • Commented that the “broken” apprenticeship levy would be replaced by a growth and skills levy.
  • Pledged a “new deal for working people,” which would guarantee basic rights from day one, protection from unfair dismissal, sick pay, and parental leave; ban zero hours contracts and reverse Trade Union legislation introduced since 2010. She noted that none of this would impede businesses’ abilities to fairly dismiss employees or offer overtime/hire on the basis of short-term demand.
  • Recognised that a productive workforce required stronger public services. She re-stated Labour’s pledge to urgently resource injection into public services to get the long-term sick back into work.

Labour Insight on Reeves-ism

Joshua Kaile, Public Affairs, Associate Director and former Labour Party advisor

Depending on who you read or listen to, Rachel Reeves speech last night at the Mais Lecture was either indicating a return to New Labour, a move to radical economics, or a continuation of Tory and Rishi Sunak’s economic rules.

The Conservative accusation is that Rachel Reeves has no plan, but risks borrowing too much to invest in the growth she has promised.

The charge from some of the trade unions, most notably Unite, and those on the far left is that Reeves plans are too close to the Tories. What is the point of a Labour Government if it doesn’t look like one, they ask.

And then there are others who claim that the Shadow Chancellor is following the fiscal rules of Gordon Brown and therefore it’s a ‘return to New Labour’.

So, whilst the Tories say she’s like Corbyn, the unions say she’s like Thatcher and others claim she’s like Brown, the truth is that none of these charges quite fit.

Perhaps we need to stop trying to compare Rachel Reeves to somebody or something else. With Labour holding a commanding lead in the polls, the UK is close to having its first female Chancellor. An extraordinary achievement, smashing the remaining glass ceiling at the Treasury.

So, who is Rachel Reeves and what will a Treasury lead by her really look like?

What we know is that Rachel prioritises fiscal responsibility and is not afraid to be a Labour Shadow Chancellor stating so clearly. She will not be nudged into any direction she is uncomfortable with, and so the comparisons to Thatcher are real and fair in that respect.

But in her speech last night, Rachel made clear that she will drive forward the party’s New Deal for Working People with commitments to end zero-hours contracts and protecting workers from unfair dismissal amongst other rights. And there the comparisons to Margaret Thatcher come to a crashing halt.

The Shadow Chancellor talked eloquently about the need for investment, driven by new institutions including Labour’s National Wealth Fund and Great British Energy. This goes beyond what Gordon Brown and New Labour every managed to deliver, so accusations that she is returning to the ‘noughties’ doesn’t really stack up.

Indeed, this level of investment is closer to that promised by the two previous Labour leaders, but with one key difference. Rachel’s clear fiscal rules, including matching the Tories pledge to reduce debt as a share of GDP on a five-year basis. Her pitch to the public is that she will deliver economic growth, without borrowing too much, and use that growth to drive further investment, raising living standards for those across the country. Not just in London and the South-East.

The Tories will continue to say that this is simply not possible, and that Labour will have to borrow more or raise taxes to deliver it. Unfortunately for them, after 14 years of Conservative rule and Liz Truss’s brief but disastrous premiership, the public simply doesn’t trust them anymore.

Rachel may be often simply referred to as ‘the iron shadow chancellor’ but in private she would be just as happy being described as ‘the campaigning shadow chancellor’. And in that I think we see what a Rachel Reeves Treasury will look like. Fiscally responsible and putting growth front and centre. But whenever she is able to, we will see her drive improving living standards, and ensuring the burden lies with those with the broadest shoulders.

With a General Election just a matter of months away, it’s time we stop comparing Rachel to others and start learning what Reeves-ism really is.

MHP’s Public Affairs team will be keeping you up to date with the latest news and analysis in this important election year. Please contact [email protected] Head of Public Affairs for further information.

Key takeaways from MHP’s Budget Briefing event

Posted on: March 7th, 2024 by Alexandra Stamp

The event was moderated by James Gurling OBE – Executive Chairman of Public Affairs at MHP Group, with panellists:  

  • Stephen Hammond MP, Treasury Select Committee and Former Minister of State  
  • Alistair Strathern MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Shadow Chancellor  
  • Madeleine Grant, Parliamentary Sketchwriter and Columnist, The Telegraph  
  • Sonia Sodha, Columnist, The Observer  
  • Asa Bennett, Assistant Editor, Daily Express  
  • Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director, Savanta  

Proceedings began with Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta, outlining the results of their overnight snap poll of public reaction to the Chancellor’s Budget announcements.  

The immediate public reception to the Budget has been muted, with support for the Spring Budget down 16 points on support for the Autumn Statement four months ago. Labour led the Conservatives on economic trust by 11 points, and 60% of UK adults do not believe that the Government’s plan for the economy is working; an increase of 11% since the Autumn Statement. 75% of UK adults do not believe that the Spring Budget will be enough to help them with the cost of living, and two thirds feel that the Budget will not benefit them or their family.  

Of the specific announcements, 61% support the Chancellor’s headline announcement to cut National Insurance by 2p, and 59% support the extension of the windfall tax on oil and gas. However, less than 50% of respondents supported the Chancellor’s announcement to abolish the non-dom tax status, potentially indicating that the public are not supportive of the Government’s perceived ‘stealing’ of Labour’s headline tax announcement.  

Quipping that the level of leakage of this year’s Spring Budget would have been a ‘sackable offence’ several years ago, Stephen Hammond MP began the panel analysis with a Conservative perspective on the Budget. He outlined that while immediate public reaction may be subdued, the long-term outcomes of the Budget will be incredibly positive for the UK.  

Speaking on NHS productivity specifically, Hammond argued that the measures introduced here would have significant and lasting benefits for the NHS without placing a significant cost on the taxpayer. However, given the lack of enthusiasm for the Budget announcements, Hammond did outline that his prediction for an election date would now be November, rather than May as has been rumoured over the last few weeks.  

Providing Labour’s response, Alistair Strathern MP outlined his intrigue regarding the Conservative’s message to ‘stick with the plan’. He argued that if the Chancellor’s idea of sticking with the plan is to take in more and more of Labour’s policy ideas, Strathern questioned how the Conservatives will defend their policies to their voters at election time.  

Strathern also pointed out that the Budget, bereft of any rabbits, showcases the difficult economic situation that the next Government is going to inherit. Additionally, given the decline in living standards that many people across the country have experienced over the last few years, Strathern pointed out that the Budget was lacking measures to get growth back on track in the UK and improve living standards.  

Providing the lobby’s view, Madeleine Grant shared how underwhelming many MPs had found this year’s Budget. Given the details that were briefed over the weekend there was very little surprise, and the contents of the Budget were not – in Grant’s view – enough to shift the dial for the Conservatives. Like Hammond, she argued that this has reduced the likelihood of a May election.  

Grant also shared that there was little within the Budget to indicate which policies the Conservatives will prioritise during the next General Election, providing little clue as to what the Government will choose to campaign on nationally over the next few months. Grant reasons that this relatively tame fiscal event was due to the “spectre of Liz Truss hanging over the Budget”, with the Government overcorrecting and stepping nervously to ensure that they do not repeat the relatively recent history of the Truss Mini-Budget.  

Finally, Grant discussed how both Labour and the Conservatives are cannibalising each other’s policy ideas. Given the current state of the economy, there is not much wiggle room for policy creativity and differentiation. As a result, Grant feels that the General Election will be determined on how much the public trust either party with the economy. Given Savanta’s polling, this does not look to be positive for the Conservatives.  

Handing over to Asa Bennett, a former Speechwriter for Liz Truss, to respond, Bennett agreed that the public’s reaction to the Budget and the absence of a rabbit in the Budget means that it is unlikely that the Budget will be used as a springboard into a May election. Bennett argued that the blame for this partially lies with the over-briefing that the Treasury undertook ahead of Wednesday’s statement, muting the rhetorical flair and spin that could be conducted post-Budget. He also argued that the stealth taxes and borrowing from future budgets to fund Budget promises has not been lost on the public, and has muted enthusiasm for the announcements.  

Bennett agreed with Strathern’s point regarding the Conservatives mimicking of Labour policies. He mused out that while the Conservatives want the credit for the Labour ideas which have proven to be successful with the public, he feels that this signifies that the Party is running out of ideas to get the public to vote blue.  

Finishing the panellist comments, Sonia Sodha spoke on the politics of the Budget. Sodha criticised the Chancellor’s messaging around the state of the current economy, pointing out that the economic hardship the public are experiencing day-to-day can’t be dismissed by the Chancellor stating that ‘it will get better’ and ‘the economy is actually doing really well’. There is a significant gap between the Chancellor’s story and people’s lived reality. Spin from the Chancellor, according to Sodha, will not sway the votes of people who are struggling financially.  

Beyond this, Sodha argued that the Conservatives are very clearly attempting to hem Labour in ahead of the election, limiting the policy levers and options available for the next Government. While Sodha sympathised with Labour’s cautiousness with regards to policy, she stated that this risk-averse attitude leaves Labour open to having their policies stolen. On Labour’s lack of Growth Plan for example, Sodha outlines the need for Labour to develop a replacement for their now defunct £28bn green investment commitment, as well as a plan for affordable housing. The Budget was significant in this way, as it set many traps for Labour for when they are in Government later this year.  

Questions from the floor

Questions were taken from the audience, ranging from the potential of another Autumn Statement before a General Election, the need for policy certainty for the energy sector, and the need for energy security and a plan for nuclear power provision.  

From Labour’s perspective, Strathern argued that the Party is prioritising policy certainty and assessment, ensuring that the UK is an appealing and competitive site for investors across the world. Both he and Hammond agreed that Labour need a strong narrative with regards to energy investment and security to soothe any concerns and crowd in investment in the sector.  

There was much discussion about when the General Election would be called. All panellists agreed that a May election appears to be off the cards, but opinions differed on when Sunak may decide to make the call. Hammond thought that a post-Summer recess call may be made to interfere with Party Conference season and avoid headlines about potential new Conservative Leadership candidates to replace Sunak. Strathern agreed that he couldn’t see how another Conference season would be useful to the Conservatives, and any election announcement would take place around this time.  

Sodha disagreed however. She stated that while a strategic and rational Prime Minister would make this choice, she felt that Sunak would try and wait out the polls, calling an election for mid-December to give the Conservatives as much time as possible to achieve a victory at the ballot box.  

Whenever the election is called, as Bennett outlined there is likely to be post-Election fallout on both sides of the aisle. The Conservatives will undertake a period of internal assessment, making drastic changes to their position in an attempt to win back support that they have lost in the last few years. Labour, while having a blank cheque for their first year in power, will quickly need to show that they are delivering change and have a plan for the future of the UK.  

With this in mind, it appears that the turbulence that the UK political scene has experienced of late will not be resolved at the ballot box, and we can look forward to continued change in the year ahead.   

Political Insider: Spring Budget, 2024

Posted on: March 6th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

It has become commonplace for details of a budget to be ‘leaked’ to the press before being formally announced to Parliament, save for one or two ‘rabbit out of the hat’ policies intended to woo voters. While we saw multiple leaks, many have been left wondering where the rabbit was hiding in today’s announcement.

After 14 years in government, the Conservative Party has been accused of lacking fresh ideas on how to meet its self-allocated priorities – being ‘rabbit-less’, if you will. Arguably, this is reinforced by its pinching of Labour’s policy on reforming rules for people with non-domiciled status in the UK today.

Jeremy Hunt spoke often of the need for lower taxes as a stimulus for economic growth. He announced as ‘tax cuts’ the freezes on fuel duty and alcohol duty, additional ‘expensing’ relief for businesses, stamp duty relief, reducing the higher 28% capital gains tax rate for residential properties and – as his headline actual tax cut – a 2% reduction in employee national insurance (NI). In conjunction with the 2% NI cut introduced after the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor argues this will provide 27 million employees with an additional £900 a year.

Notably, the basic rate of income tax was not cut – a measure which would likely have had greater cut through with voters. Nor were changes made to the tax thresholds, which have been frozen in cash terms since April 2021 and have resulted in thousands of earners being dragged into higher rates.

Hunt made much of the latest forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) which predicts inflation will drop below the Conservative’s 2% target “in just a few months’ time” – nearly a year earlier than previously forecast. This, argued Hunt, is proof that the Conservative’s plan for long-term growth is working, and that voters should stick with the government at the next election.

Time will tell whether Hunt’s announcements have done enough to turn around the Conservative’s electoral fortunes – in other words, are the additional cuts to NI enough of a rabbit?

At a glance, the core measures announced by the Chancellor today:

  • Main rate of employee NI contributions cut from 10% to 8%
  • For the self-employed, main rate of Class 4 NI cut from 9% to 6%.
  • Abolishment of non-dom status
  • High Income Child Benefit Charge threshold raised to £60,000
  • Freeze on alcohol duty
  • Five pence cut to fuel duty maintained and rates frozen for the fourteenth consecutive year
  • Cut on capital gains tax on residential property sales
  • Increase in the VAT registration threshold for small businesses, from £85,000 to £90,000
  • £2.45 billion for NHS support and reform, alongside new £3.4 billion productively plan
  • A new duty on vapes
  • New British ISA to be introduced
  • Scrapping of the furnished holiday lets regime
  • Military spending to rise to 2.5% of GDP “as soon as economic conditions allow”
  • Maintaining of 1% increase in day-to-day public spending above inflation
  • £160 million invested on two nuclear sites and £120 million for green industries to develop technologies
  • Windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas companies to conclude in 2029

The political impact of today’s budget for the Conservative Party.

Mario Creatura, Director, Public Affairs and former Conservative Downing Street Special Advisor

There is significant demand for greater public spending, from a public that also hopes for much-needed tax cuts to ease the cost-of-living burden. These are two tricky, bucking horses that the Chancellor today attempted to ride simultaneously – all compounded by a Parliamentary party that want him to do more of everything, to have done it yesterday, but without any real consensus on what ‘everything’ actually entails. It’s that lack of political clarity that has made this Budget more challenging for the Chancellor than otherwise would or should be the case.

With the 2p cut in National Insurance, a cut in fuel duty, reforms to childcare and VAT support for SMEs, Hunt will be hoping that tonight’s headlines will reward him with positive tax cutting coverage.

But it’s the political manoeuvrings on scaling back the non-dom tax regime and extending the tax on oil and gas company profits that may be more significant over the coming months. Both were similar to proposals Labour pledged to implement, with the resulting funds being used to fund a variety of measures. Shadow Cabinet spokespeople have been at pains to say the extra spending commitments won’t change, even though they’ll need to desperately source the funds from elsewhere.

In true pantomime fashion Labour have thrown their toys out of the pram over this. How dare a politician seek to play politics at one of the key political moments in the calendar! Yet these howls of injustice will come to nothing as the inquiring narrative from their opposition and press are already asking: how will you fund these cast-iron pledges now? What taxes will go up or services will be cut?

These core questions are designed to expose a key battleground over the coming months. Who is to be more trusted on the economy? The Conservatives with their recent turbulent fiscal performance or Labour, with a plan but no way to pay for it?

“Great Budgets change history,” proclaimed Jeremy Hunt shortly before he stood at the Despatch Box today – he will be hoping that his Budget boxes Labour into a corner, one that gives the Conservatives the edge they need to get back in the General Election-winning game.

The political impact of the budget for the Labour Party.

Josh Kaile, Public Affairs, Associate Director and former Labour Party advisor


The Chancellor used a lot of words in his speech, but ‘recession’ was not one of them. Indeed, you would be forgiven for forgetting that the UK is actually in a recession right now.

But never fear, Keir Starmer was only too happy to remind the country of ‘Rishi’s Recession’ when he stood up to respond to the Budget.

Labour’s attack on the Tories has centred around the government delivering the highest tax burden in 70 years. Keir made sure to remind anyone listening that taxes are rising, prices are soaring and mortgages are higher. People across the country are feeling worse off, not better.

So, the question today is whether Jeremy Hunt has been able to challenge that narrative and show that the Conservatives are tackling the cost-of-living crisis and making people feel better off.

Will people feel better off from a 2p cut in National Insurance? Will people feel better with a freeze in alcohol and fuel duties? The Chancellor is gambling that they will.

The opposition’s pitch is that a Labour Budget would be focused on creating decent jobs, building 1.5 million new homes and the industries for the future. In a word, it’s about ‘growth’.

Keir also pointed out that if the Tories really did believe in ending the ‘non-dom’ tax break, other than using it for political manoeuvring, they would have introduced it years ago. They could have delivered 3.8 million NHS operations or provided free breakfast clubs for schools across the country.

Instead, he claims the government are putting the Conservative Party first and the country second.

The Leader of the Opposition ended the political give-away session from the Chancellor by calling for a General Election on 2ndMay. I suspect this will see the Prime Minister being followed by a life-sized chicken when he inevitably fails to deliver. We may be months away from an election now, but the campaign has well and truly started.

The City’s reaction

Charlie Barker, Managing Director, Capital Markets

Ever since former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s infamous not-so-mini Budget almost downed the UK bond markets 18 months ago, his successor has taken care to avoid spooking markets. So it was no surprise that today’s announcement from Jeremy Hunt was in line with the headline measures leaked to the media in recent days.

But there was still some new news for the City to cheer.

Beyond the rosier than expected growth forecasts from the OBR, ears will have been pricked by the announcement of a new “British ISA”. The measure, which had been long rumoured, will allow savers an additional £5,000 to invest tax-free each year as long as they put that money into UK-listed shares.

That will have pleased many in the City who have been lobbying for such a move in recent months to boost demand for UK stocks. But they may have also been disappointed by what was absent. There was, for example, no sign of a move to scrap stamp duty on buying shares, which critics argue puts off international investors.

As the Chancellor raced through the rest of his section on City reforms, there may have been a sense of an opportunity missed. However, the initial reaction of the UK-company focused FTSE 250 Index – moving to its highest level of the day, up 1.2% by the end of his speech – suggests that overall the City reaction has been a positive one.

Health Insight

The health policy community were not expecting much in terms of health and social care in today’s Budget, with the Chancellor intending to cut taxes ahead of the next General Election. However, as part of his plan to drive investment for ‘more jobs, better public services and lower taxes’, Jeremy Hunt announced investment into the life sciences sector and the NHS.

NHS productivity has been a hot topic, as more money is being spent on the NHS compared with pre-pandemic levels, yet fewer patients are being treated. Therefore, Jeremy Hunt’s plans to fully fund an NHS Productivity Plan will be welcomed. The £3.4 billion investment aims to modernise the NHS and make their IT systems more efficient, which the Chancellor noted would help unlock £35 billion in costs savings. This funding will:

  • Streamline operations by reducing 13 million hours lost due to IT system inefficiencies
  • Use AI to significantly decrease form filling by doctors
  • Digitise operating theatre processes to enable an additional 200,000 operations annually
  • Utilise AI to help doctors read MRI and CT scans more quickly, speeding up results for 130,000 patients per year
  • Enhance the NHS app to manage appointments effectively, potentially cutting missed appointments in half

It is promising that the narrative ‘invest to save’ is being utilised in this instance, as we recognise decision-makers are not always able to consider the longer-term benefits of upfront investments – be it digital technologies, capital infrastructure, or more innovative medicines – with the NHS experiencing significant financial pressures. However, whilst the Chancellor has kept the 1% real terms growth increase in public spending and increased funding to the NHS, health is more than the NHS. He has reversed planned increases to NI from earlier budgets planned to fund social care – potentially leading to delayed discharges from hospital – already a major brake on improvements in NHS productivity. In addition, whilst the Chancellor has provided additional funding for hospital care through diagnostics and surgery under the public service productivity plan, productivity in the NHS is also improved by preventing people from becoming sick – and there has been no extra funding for those services.

While no additional funding has been provided to stop people becoming sick, Jeremy Hunt has announced the UK Government’s decision to implement a tax on vaping and e-cigarettes. With the aim of discouraging non-smokers from taking up vaping, Mr Hunt confirmed the introduction of an excise duty on vaping products starting 26th October, along with the publication of a consultation on its design. Recognising the potential of vapes to aid smoking cessation, the Government will simultaneously raise tobacco duty to maintain the financial incentive for individuals to choose vaping over smoking. This tax on vaping and cigarettes will be welcomed, but the simultaneous freeze of the alcohol duty – another risk factor for many diseases – may seem incoherent policy to those interested in prevention.

For Life Sciences, Jeremy Hunt outlined the £45 million allocation towards medical research aimed at the development of new treatments for conditions including cancer, dementia, and epilepsy. This funding will be complemented by a significant boost to the UK’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities, with a £650 million investment by AstraZeneca. This investment is earmarked for the establishment of a new vaccine manufacturing hub in Liverpool, and the expansion of their biomedical campus in Cambridge. This additional investment, beyond those outlined in the Autumn Statement, indicates that the election period will not lead to a dramatic break in policy toward the life sciences.

Further information

MHP will be keeping you up to date with the latest news and analysis in this important election year. Please contact [email protected] (Public Affairs) or [email protected] (Health) for further information.

Political Insider: By-election bonanza for Labour

Posted on: February 16th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Will Labour be partying like it is 1997?

The results are pretty stark reading. Labour managed to overturn a Conservative majority in the Northamptonshire seat of Wellingborough of 18,500; the swing of 28.6 per cent was the biggest shift of support to Labour recorded since the Second World War.

On the other side of the country in Kingswood – where the by-election was forced by the Government’s former net zero guru Chris Skidmore resigning in a fit of pique over Sunak’s environmental stance – a majority of 11,200 was pulped by Labour.

What will be worrying the Prime Minister is the ascent of the Reform Party. In both by-elections, it secured more than 10 per cent of the vote, the first time it had reached that milestone. Expect yet more calls from the Tory backbenches for a right-ward turn.

Labour have now taken six seats off the Conservatives since July. Over the course of this Parliament the Conservatives have lost 10 by-elections, the worst record of any government in 50 years and worse even than the sleaze stained death rattles of the Major administration in the 1990s.

Things can only get better for Sunak, but Keir Starmer will know that while today is undoubtedly encouraging, some danger lurks on the horizon. The next by-election in Rochdale will not be as easy a ride, a result of the party’s now disowned candidate’s conspiracy theorising on Israel and Palestine.

Labour viewpoint

By Joshua Kaile, Former Labour Political Advisor

They say a week is a long time in politics. Today that feels like an understatement.

This time last week, the Labour Party had just ended its high-profile commitment to spend £28 billion a year on green policies. The Conservatives, Labour left, and environmental groups criticised the move, albeit for varying reasons.

Then, on Monday Labour withdrew support for its candidate in the Rochdale by-election following controversial comments he made about the 7 October attacks on Israel. To make the situation even worse, the decision meant Labour had no time to find a replacement.

All this has led to over-the-top remarks from many commentators about Keir Starmer’s leadership and claims that we are about to see Labour lose their previously insurmountable leads in the polls.

So, this morning as we all look at another two stunning by-election victories for Labour, overturning significant Tory majorities, whilst the problems of the last week haven’t disappeared entirely, they are put into better context.

Labour has internal challenges they need to address, that much is clear. But they are facing a Conservative Government that is showing its age and seeming to have MPs eager for a spell in opposition to work out what they really believe in.

After numerous attempts at rebooting his party, Rishi Sunak seemed to have settled on a narrative that he was starting to turn things around, and that the country shouldn’t mess that up by voting for a Labour Government. But with the country now technically in a recession, the Tories have not been able to gain back any semblance of fiscal responsibility.

Keir Starmer’s Labour Party needed their own reboot moment this week, and the victories in the Wellingborough and Kingswood by-elections look like they have provided them precisely that. Tougher and more regular challenges lie ahead in a General Election, but with May now looking unlikely (what Government wants to fight a cost-of-living election whilst in a recession?) Labour has more time to ensure it is in tip top shape to handle whatever is thrown at it.

Conservative viewpoint

By Mario Creatura, Former Special Advisor to Theresa May

Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them.

That old political maxim was given new credence in the early hours of this morning when the results from the two Parliamentary by-elections came in.

Unlike opinion polls, by-elections are the chance to see what real voters in a real election context think. Whilst it was clearly not a good night for the Conservatives, beneath the headline result it was hardly a ringing endorsement of Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour.

Turnout was halved in both constituencies by almost the same percentage of Conservative votes. The Conservative voters of 2019 appear to have stayed at home in their droves – motivating them over the coming months will be key for Rishi Sunak.

In Kingswood the votes cast for Labour were more than 5,000 votes lower than they received in the seat in 2019. Now, by-elections always receive a lower turnout, but the size of Labour’s increase in both Wellingborough and Kingswood is almost half the size of the Conservative vote reduction. The voters here were not enthused enough to come out for Labour.

Psephological pundits will be reminding us today that by-elections are not the same as General Elections. The former is often used to send a message, to punish the incumbent. You have to be an especially motivated voter to take part in an election that you know won’t change the outcome of who runs the United Kingdom.

General Elections are a different kettle of fish entirely – expect turnouts of over 70% versus the 30-40% in a by-election. A different profile of voter is therefore engaged, it’s simply more important and therefore the frames of reference for voters will be much wider, and harder to predict.

In so far as we can infer anything, yesterday’s by-election results offer two main conclusions: firstly that the Conservatives are presently losing the confidence of the voter coalition that so successfully delivered them their 2019 victory. But perhaps more importantly, voters aren’t sold on Labour’s vision. They aren’t enthusiastically rushing to the polling booths to endorse Starmer, they’re instead reluctantly ticking the box simply to oust the Conservatives.

Labour will be publicly pleased with the result, but the apparatchiks in Conservative HQ will not be too disheartened – if a week is a long time in politics, then an Autumn election is an eternity away.

The Conservatives will remain determined that it’s all still to play for. The most successful election winning machine in British history is just getting warmed up.

The MHP Public Affairs Team will be keeping you up to date with the latest news and analysis in this important election year. Please contact [email protected] for further information.