Party conference season is over for another year (with the exception of the SNP annual conference which follows later). With MRM having attended both main party conferences, and monitored events at others, what’s the current state of play in British politics at the moment? Our Public Affairs Consultant Jansev Jemal reports back.
The Conservative Party has a new leader and Britain a new Prime Minister. Is it a case of ‘business as usual’ or will Theresa May break with the direction of Cameron and Osborne?
Theresa May has made it very clear: Cameron and Osborne are no more and the country under her leadership is changing direction. May reiterated the Conservative Party’s position as the party of business and free markets, but there was a stark message that that support is not unconditional. Where markets fail, where people and organisations fail to pay their fair share of tax, the Government will step in and use its power to ‘do good’.
May made what the Daily Mirror described as a ‘shameless move’ to poach voters from the Labour Party. If she succeeds in pulling off the trick of retaining the Conservative vote and chipping away at soft Labour voters she could look to settle into Number 10 for a good long while. For more on the Conservative conference, see here.
What is the future of the Labour Party? Is it worth public affairs professionals trying to engage with the party anymore?
Without question the Labour Party is in a difficult spot at the moment. In my piece focusing on the Labour conference, I talked about the juxtaposition between the calls for unity and the courage of MPs, particularly front bench MPs, to call out Corbyn where they have felt it necessary to do so. This will add to Corbyn’s sense of feeling undermined and only fuel the immense of lack of trust that exists between the leader and other Labour MPs.
Nevertheless, the Labour Party remains the official opposition and it is right that companies looking to influence public policy keep up efforts to engage with the party. The front bench is not the only option for engagement, MPs also serve on select committees and are members of all-party parliamentary groups widening the pool of potential targets for influence. There are also devolved assemblies and local government, where appropriate.
What were the main themes coming out of the party conference?
The two hot topics emanating from both the Conservative and Labour conferences were that of Brexit and the housing crisis. Whether it was party announcements or conference fringe events Brexit was top of peoples’ minds – hard or soft Brexit, what will it mean for foreign workers, companies, will Parliament get a say in the negotiations, should voters get (another) say; questions over Britain’s future post-Brexit were endless. Are we any the wiser? All we know for certain is that Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March 2017.
The lack of sufficient affordable housing has reached a crisis point and the Government finally seems determined to do something about the problem. Policies have so far been focused on the demand side of the equation and it’s now beginning to focus on the supply side, starting with planning regulations. The situation is dire and with serious questions about the role of developers, their incentives to build and skills supply (particularly post-Brexit), there seem to be a lot more questions than there are answers. But there’s one thing that everyone is agreed on: we need to get building.
Finally, as 2016 draws to a close, what can we expect from politics in 2017?
If the last 12 months has taught us anything it’s that a year, a month, a week or even a day can seem a long time in politics. Whether we’re talking about the leadership of the Labour Party, the outcome of the EU referendum, the future of the Liberal Democrats or even the United Kingdom, the only thing that is certain is that nothing in the world of politics is certain.