Posts Tagged ‘public affairs’

Political Insider: Labour Party Conference

Posted on: September 28th, 2022 by Tomas White

The slogan of this Labour Conference has been ‘Fairer, Greener Future’ and Starmer majored on that, with the key policy announcement being the pledge to set up the public-owned Great British Energy company that will run on clean UK power in Labour’s first year in government.

With a winter of discontent approaching for families and businesses, Starmer outlined his belief that green and growth are inseparable.

While some many quibble about the focus on net zero during a time of profound economic crisis, Starmer clearly believes that energy independence is the answer to the country’s current woes. Alongside the commitment to protect the environment, those around the Labour leader clearly feel there is a play to be made for those who have been left uneasy by the Truss Government’s recent announcements on fracking, for example.

By emphasising repeatedly that this energy revolution would power up all parts of the country, the Labour leader showed his party is serious about taking back those seats in the north which were lost in 2019.

With Liz Truss seemingly jettisoning levelling up in favour of trickle down, Starmer outlined a concerted effort to show that Labour is a party for the whole of the country and referenced Blair’s famous line of calling Labour the political wing of the British people. While he was giving a speech at a conference that risked being overshadowed by the fallout from the government’s fiscal event on Friday, Starmer knows that the fight is now on to be the party of economic responsibility.

The sense that “we’re all in this together” was a theme running through the speech. A commitment not to partner with the SNP after any election was forcefully delivered. By speaking directly to Scottish voters and emphasising that voting Labour – rather than SNP – was the fastest way to get rid of the Tories, it was a sign that Starmer is serious about clawing back another part of the Labour family which abandoned the party.

He also announced a target to ensure 70% of British people own their homes and that the party will help first-time buyers onto the property ladder with a new mortgage guarantee scheme. Starmer proudly announced that Labour is the party of home ownership today, firmly parking his tanks on the Tories’ lawn and reaching out directly to those voters who feel frustrated with the current system.

The policy announcements in Keir’s speech were targeted at those ‘hero voters’ who his top team know he needs to win over in order to be the next Prime Minister.

These includes those who voted Conservative under Johnson who are now disappointed at Truss’ lack of enthusiasm for levelling up, those Liberal Democrat and Green voters who prioritise the green agenda and SNP voters in Scotland who are frustrated with being taken for granted by a Westminster government.

Although the speech was given to a room full of Labour members, Starmer was speaking directly to those individuals outside of the conference hall in Liverpool that he knows will decide whether he is this country’s next Prime Minister. And following this speech, Labour will feel they are closer to this goal than ever before.

Analysis: Financial Services and Markets Bill

Posted on: July 21st, 2022 by Tomas White

Future Regulatory Framework

The Bill implements the outcomes of the Future Regulatory Framework Review. The overarching aim of this measure is to ensure retained EU law will move to UK regulators’ rulebooks enabling them to act with greater speed and agility. In addition, the Bill affords the FCA and PRA a new secondary objective: to facilitate growth and competitiveness.

There has been some debate over whether pursuing international competitiveness might promote the lowering of standards or ‘light-touch regulation’, however others have argued such a secondary objective will ensure the UK’s financial services sector are globally competitive. What remains to be seen is how this new objective will be implemented, monitored and ultimately interplay with the FCA and PRAs primary objectives of promoting financial stability and consumer protection.

Supporting Financial Inclusion

The Bill also introduces a number of measures that support financial inclusion.

These include:

  1. Providing a legislative framework to protect access to cash for those that need it, with the FCA as the lead regulator.
  2. Secondly, given the proliferation of financial scams since the start of the pandemic (in the year to June 2021 fraud was committed at least 5 million times), the Government has focused on addressing Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud in its Bill. This will enable regulators to require that victims of push payment scams are reimbursed, and that consumer protections are applied consistently.
  3. Thirdly, the Bill enables Credit Unions to offer more products, beyond primarily savings accounts and loans to now include hire purchase and conditional sale agreements – with the Bill giving the Government the power to add further services to the Credit Unions Act; and
  4. Fourthly, the Bill introduces a regulatory ‘gateway’ designed to improve the quality of financial promotions. This means regulated firms must pass through this before being able to approve the financial promotions of unauthorised firms, giving the FCA greater oversight of the approval of financial promotions.

Taken together these will make a measurable difference to the most financially vulnerable in society. However, as some commentators have long argued broader problems of financial exclusion continue to exist, with some calling for a longer-term solution to the problem such as giving regulators a statutory objective to promote financial inclusion.

The Regulation of Stablecoins

Finally, the Bill brings activities facilitating the use of certain stablecoins, where used as a means of payment, into the regulatory perimeter by amending existing e-money regulations. The Bill introduces a new definition of “digital settlement asset”, giving HM Treasury the power to amend this definition to account for future changes.

It is clear the Government’s staged approach to the wider regulation of digital assets, in starting with stablecoins, recognises that such tokens already share characteristics with existing forms of e-money. However, it should be noted that the Government intends to launch a consultation on its regulatory approach to wider crypto-assets, including those used as a means of investment later in 2022.

The Financial Services and Markets Bill represents the latest development in a rapidly shifting policy and regulatory landscape for the UK’s FinTech sector. Amidst the current political and economic turmoil policymakers will continue their efforts to ensure innovation in financial services do not come at the expense of consumer protection. Indeed, with the introduction of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill; the PSR’s ongoing market reviews into card payment and interchange fees, and the Treasury Select Committee’s inquiry into the Crypto-asset industry – policymakers remain keen to understand where the UK can improve its rulemaking, whilst continuing to support the UK’s FinTech sector.

To explore the implications of these measures, and how they will continue to shape the future of the UK’s FinTech sector, please contact Sameer Gulati, Director, Financial Services.

Political Insider: MHP + Savanta Conservative Leadership Snap Poll Results

Posted on: July 10th, 2022 by Tomas White

 

Ready for Rishi

The poll suggests voters are ready for Rishi. Perhaps unsurprisingly so, given his high profile during the COVID crisis.  But it also suggests that the controversy around his Green Card and his wife’s Non-Dom status has failed to resonate as negatively with voters as Westminster insiders expected. His introductory film was much mocked in Westminster, but perhaps we should see it more as Sunak pitching himself over the heads of his MP colleagues to the electorate – their ultimate bosses. It is a high risk strategy.

Ben Wallace Surprises

Meanwhile, Ben Wallace is rarely considered a source of surprise in Westminster, but has managed to surprise twice in one weekend. Rating a clear second place in our poll, there were surprising signs of an early Ben Wallace bandwagon, so with clear support amongst Party members and voters alike, his decision not to take part in the process was all the more surprising.

Wallace’s decision may prove to be doubly influential.  Those openly supporting him will be up for grabs by others in the competition – and look to where his endorsement goes – but as a clearly popular and highly competent candidate, his decision also sets a high bar for other candidates declaring.  As the list of candidates grows ever longer, so Party patience may wear thin prompting pressure on the 1922 Committee to limit the field.

 

 

Johnson Should Go (Now)

Meanwhile our poll indicates popular patience with Johnson remains equally thin. A substantial majority of the public want Johnson to hand over immediately to an interim Prime Minister. This will be welcome news to Kier Starmer as he deploys his ‘Squatter in Downing Street’ attack, and present a further complication for the Backbench 1922 Committee as they finalise the election rules early this week.

What Next?

The campaign to replace Johnson has barely begun but, in much the same way as his Premiership, it is shaping up to be as unpredictable as it will be decisive. Candidates have thus far eschewed the formal press conference launch in order to minimise early missteps prompted by answering (or not) awkward questions. Perhaps the unintended consequence is that Westminster now abounds in rumours of dodgy dossiers circulating from rival camps (official or ‘freelance’). An unedifying campaign will serve only to further polarise positions and undo the ‘healing’ that the Conservatives must hope will be the by-product of the contest.

As the policy differences extend beyond promises on tax Insider will be there with you all the way through, with insight and comment, powered by further collaboration with Savanta.

To explore the implications of Boris Johnson’s resignation, the potential challengers for PM, and what a new government might mean for the policy landscape, please contact James Gurling, Executive Chair, Public Affairs.

Tories lose by-elections to Labour and Lib Dems

Posted on: June 24th, 2022 by Tomas White

Boris Johnson has been dealt a significant blow this morning with the loss of two by-elections. Labour took back the red wall seat of Wakefield with a 12.7% swing and the Lib Dems took Tiverton and Honiton with a massive swing of almost 30%.

The double defeat, in two very different constituencies, is a hit to the PM’s reputation as a vote winner – a key factor in his MPs’ minds when they consider if he is the man to lead them into the next election.

Boris loyalist Oliver Dowden resigned as party chairman this morning saying the Tories could not carry on with business as usual and “somebody must take responsibility”.

The PM has promised to listen to what people are saying but pledged to “keep going”.

With Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer saying the result shows the country has lost confidence in the Tories and his Lib Dem counterpart Sir Ed Davey hailing “the biggest by-election victory our country has ever seen”, Chris Hopkins of our sister company Savanta ComRes gives his top 10 takeaways from Boris’ bad night:

  1. In my last by-election analysis I started by congratulating the Liberal Democrats for overturning a seat that required the 7th biggest by-election swing of all time. I better start this one in similar fashion, by congratulating them on a truly remarkable victory that this time marked the third largest by-election swing of all time, overturning a 24,000+ majority, and planting a stake in the ground in their former ‘heartland’ – as much as the Lib Dems have ever had a heartland – of South West England, eroded over recent elections by the Conservatives. Make no mistake though; South West or not, this is Conservative territory, and the Lib Dems have won it relatively comfortably.
  2. I said that the North Shropshire “walloping” suffered by the Conservatives at the hands of their former coalition bedfellows was “no ordinary by-election defeat suffered by an incumbent government”. In terms of the sheer numbers, this victory is bigger, yet it doesn’t feel quite as momentous. This is a government on the rocks, with Partygate and sleaze allegations that brought about the North Shropshire defeat acting as the shot to a continued poor polling performance, vote of no confidence and cost of living crisis chaser that brings about this latest defeat.
  3. So while it perhaps doesn’t feel as momentous – after all, the Liberal Democrats were favourites to win this by-election with the bookies before the writ was even moved – the knock-on effect of this one could be huge. Conservative MPs waking up this morning, seeing a 24,000+ majority get overturned, the second 20,000+ majority to be lost since Partygate broke, and coming to the perfectly reasonable assumption that their supposedly safe seat could be vulnerable. Yes, this is a by-election, and usual by-election rules apply, but 290-odd Conservative MPs have a seat less secure than Tiverton and Honiton, and the sheer scale of this defeat is bound to restart murmurings of coups to oust the Prime Minister.
  4. Chronologically, the Tiverton and Honiton result came after the one in Wakefield, but I’ll use some artistic licence to say that Wakefield serves to compound the Conservative misery on Friday morning. Labour winning back this seat after losing it in 2019 for the first time since the 1930s is naturally significant, and given its position in the Red Wall, the 2019 Conservative intake of MPs will also be looking especially nervously over their shoulder at their prospects of retaining their seat at the next election.
  5. With uniform national swing, given where the two main parties are in the national polls and the relatively slim Conservative majorities across the Red Wall, many Red Wall seats would be vulnerable to switching back to Labour at the next election anyway, but the scale of this victory – an 18pt majority – outperforms Labour’s national poll lead. Again, normal by-election rules apply, knowing that this is extremely unlikely to be extrapolated at a General Election, but it would have been all-too-easy for Labour to, well, labour to an underwhelming victory here. In the end, they blew the Conservatives away.
  6. Poor vetting and ill-discipline caused these by-elections, and Conservative Party chair Oliver Dowden resigned after losing both of them this morning, citing “a run of very poor results” that presumably includes North Shropshire, the local elections, and 41% of the parliamentary party expressing no confidence in the leader. The Conservative Party will need a new plan heading into the next election, and on this evidence it’s going to take a lot more than a Rwanda plan and bashing trade unions to firm up the base.
  7. But where do the Conservatives go from here? It’s hard to imagine any policy platform really is enough to turn things around. In the last six-to-eight months, the leader’s popularity has sunk like a stone, the leader-in-waiting’s popularity suffered a similar fate, perceptions of economic competence have been ceded to *checks notes* the Labour Party amid a cost of living crisis that shows no end in sight, and two fifths of your parliamentary party recently said they had no confidence in the party leadership. The electorate does not reward divided parties at the ballot box. The electorate does not reward perceived economic incompetence at the ballot box. The electorate does not reward unpopular incumbent Prime Ministers at the ballot box. That’s a triumvirate of terror the Conservatives have to address.
  8. The Conservative Party therefore finds itself in this weird, almost Labour-esque position where its best chance of success is the other party not being good enough. Labour’s milquetoast leadership has felt like it’s just been waiting for a Conservative collapse to win by default. In doing so, voters are still unenamoured with Keir Starmer and the party as a whole, and therefore the Conservatives perhaps still stand a chance. If they can convince voters not that the Conservatives are the solution, but that Labour definitely are not, maybe they can limp to another election victory by being the least worst. Johnson vs Starmer feels like a race to the bottom worse than Cameron vs Miliband.
  9. The Conservatives can limp to victory if, and only if, the electoral maths allows it. A strange but significant phenomenon in these by-elections were that in Tiverton & Honiton, the Lib Dems won with a big swing and Labour lost their deposit; in Wakefield, Labour won with a decent swing and the Lib Dems lost their deposit. If this scale of tactical voting played out at a General Election, the Conservatives are in a battle in basically every seat, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats can concentrate resources where they’re needed most. While tactical voting is much more pronounced at by-elections, the two parties working in cahoots to oust the Conservatives at the next election is potentially a win-win for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
  10. I’m on annual leave today, off to see Elton John at Hyde Park, so how on earth can I shoehorn some sort of pun into this column? Something about a Lib Dem Yellow Brick Road? I guess that’s why they call it the blue wall? The Prime Minister’s still standing? They’re all terrible, so I can only end this column by apologising; but sometimes sorry seems to be the hardest word.

Cabinet Reshuffle: Clearing The Decks

Posted on: September 15th, 2021 by Tomas White

The reshuffle that began this afternoon has been the subject of much rumour and spin. Originally briefed out as a means to keep Conservative MPs in order as the Government dropped their manifesto commitment not to raise taxes, the main Cabinet changes are now complete.

In reality, the Prime Minister was running out of options. With the Spending Round completed only three days ago and the Party conference looming on the horizon, now is the only time Boris Johnson can realistically get a new team settled-in before the autumn CSR and Budget.

There are plenty of capable would-be junior Ministers in the wings, keen to get on with their career progression, and a feeling of capability lethargy hanging over some of the Great Offices of State.

Johnson is effectively choosing who he can afford to have actively grumbling on the back benches, and those he can’t afford not to have around his Cabinet table.

Matthew Elliott sets out below some of the implications of the new Government line-up and what it says about Johnson 2.0.

CLEARING THE DECKS

Matthew Elliott

Senior Adviser to MHP Mischief
and former CEO of Vote Leave

 

 

 

 

 

The departures from Government are more extensive than originally anticipated. On the scale of tinkering to clearing the decks, this reshuffle is certainly at the latter end of the reshuffle spectrum. Gavin Williamson sacked from Education, Robert Buckland dismissed from Justice, Rob Jenrick removed from MHCLG, Amanda Milling losing the Party chairmanship – those four big changes came soon after PMQs.

Dominic Raab’s move from the Foreign Office to Justice was less clear cut – it was sweetened with the title of Deputy Prime Minister. He has a strong relationship with the PM, so this might turn out to be a sideways move, rather than the demotion it is currently being presented as by the media.

With Liz Truss promoted to become the new Foreign Secretary, and both Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel keeping their jobs, two of the Great Offices of State are now held by women, and two by members of the BAME community. This is something that the Government should be rightly proud of. For Liz Truss, this is a well-earned promotion following her success at the Department for International Trade and recognition of her popularity with the Party grassroots.

Michael Gove has been confirmed as the new housing secretary. The media had been tipping a big promotion to either the Home Office or Foreign Office, but with his additional responsibilities for levelling-up and relations with the UK’s devolved administrations, this is a beefier MHCLG, befitting to his Cabinet Office experience of cross-government coordination.

Oliver Dowden’s promotion from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to the chairmanship of the Conservative Party might strike some as odd, with him being such an able Minister, but he has grown up through the Conservative Party and knows the party machine well. He has also been at the forefront of the ‘culture wars’, which are important to grassroots Conservatives. As a safe pair of hands in the media, this will be a high-profile position ahead of the next General Election.

Another feature of the reshuffle is rewarding those who have demonstrated their competence and deserve battle honours for the fight against Covid. The promotion of Nadine Dorries to become Culture Secretary is a recognition of the first class work she has done at the Department for Health, and a reward for her position as one of the PM’s most longstanding, doughty defenders in the Parliamentary party. And Nadhim Zahawi’s appointment as Education Secretary is recognition of his outstanding work both at BEIS and then as Vaccines Minister.

These changes undoubtedly give the Government a lift and a refresh ahead of the Party conference and the coming year.

It also feels like a line is being drawn under Brexit and Covid. We’re beginning a new phase of Boris Johnson’s time in office. If Johnson 1.0 was all about Getting Brexit Done, defeating Jeremy Corbyn and saving Britain from Covid, Johnson 2.0 will be about levelling-up, achieving net zero and – crucially – commencing the build-up to the next General Election.