Public Policy

June 9, 2017

The UK General Election: What next?


As vote share in the 2017 General Election signals a return to the two party state the UK has previously been used to, we have discussed the results as a team internally and come up with a view on what it means across a number of issues.

We acknowledge, of course, just how uncertain the current situation is. Things can change almost hourly. We therefore offer not firm predictions but our views and analysis of possibilities, options and considerations moving forward. We have sought to focus on those questions where our input will be helpful and appreciated.

  1. What it means for forming a government
  • Theresa May has now confirmed that the Conservative Party will work with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to form a governing majority. We understand that this could take the form of a supply and confidence agreement with the DUP, on the basis that no separate Brexit deal will be sought for Northern Ireland (but avoid a hard border).
  • (We therefore expect the Queen’s Speech to take place, as planned, on 19 June.)
  1. What it means for the Conservative Leadership
  • Theresa May has indicated that she will not immediately step down. Indeed, the statement she gave at 12:50pm on the steps of Downing Street seemed to suggest that she intends to remain as Prime Minister for the full five years. However, at this point, two alternative scenarios should be considered:
  1. Theresa May will stay as an interim Prime Minister for the next few weeks. In light of Conservative MPs’ strong feelings of anger over the election campaign and resulting lack of credibility, a Conservative leadership election could take place over the summer, with a new leader possibly in place by the Conservative Party Conference in early October. Conservative MPs are expected to back someone “from the right”; names mentioned to date include Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd and David Davis though all of them have their own baggage to contend with.
  2. Theresa May will stay for a longer period of six to nine months, handing over the reins at a time of her choosing or on other grounds. Considerations in this respect include a (recent) history of Conservatives seeking to steady the ship to placate markets rather than causing upheaval, and a feeling amongst Conservatives that it is their “patriotic duty” to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of Downing Street. This is added to by the Conservatives’ deal with the DUP, and Corbyn’s history with the IRA.
  • In any case, a lot of our subsequent considerations will have to take account of how things might change under a new Conservative leader.
  1. What it means for the new Cabinet
  • We would expect a relatively quick and minor Cabinet reshuffle so as to create a sense of reassurance, business-as-usual and continuity. Details of who will be in the Cabinet are already beginning to emerge.
  • The election result offers May little political strength to do what she might have previously planned to so a number of Cabinet Ministers previously deemed at risk might stay on. In simple terms: in her currently vulnerable position, it is difficult for her to step on anyone’s toes.
  • At the same time, there is potential for a slight freshening up of the guard as Ministers who lost their seats (Jane Ellison and Simon Kirby at HM Treasury, Ben Gummer at the Cabinet Office) will have to be replaced. There might also be impetus to reflect the greater female representation in Parliament (over 207 women).
  1. What it means for Brexit
  • Theresa May, as colleagues have put it, is stuck between a rock and a hard place: the Conservatives’ red lines are unchanged, and the DUP favours a hard Brexit, but the public, arguably, has expressed opposition to the pursuit of just this.
  • Driven by considerations of having to make friends in Europe in her current position, and achieving parliamentary approval for any final deal, May might soften her rhetoric. Commentators and detractors will certainly be looking out for this. That the Government is planning on offering compromises on the rights of EU nationals living in the UK will help show a more conciliatory side. More widely, we do not think there will be any short-term discernible change in the macro-level, short-term approach to Brexit adopted by the Government.
  • (We expect the Brexit negotiations to commence as planned.)
  1. What it means for domestic policy – May’s manifesto and political priorities
  • While significant parts of the Conservative’s domestic policy agenda are likely to continue as usual government business, May’s flagship areas of focus feel less significant and contentious policies are likely to be dropped. The manifesto will be less sacrosanct as a result.
  • May has also reiterated a focus on security and the fight against extremism, strengthening police and security services powers.
  • (We would expect the implementation of the Industrial Strategy to move ahead, not least because it does not contain sufficiently controversial provisions; and would equally expect an element of scepticism towards big business to remain, even if government-driven market intervention subsides.)
  1. What it means for the Labour Party
  • Jeremy Corbyn’s future is no longer questioned.
  • While the Labour Party’s number of seats is similar to what was achieved under Gordon Brown in 2010, there is a general feeling that Jeremy Corbyn has become an asset to the Labour Party who should not be underestimated.
  • MPs were elected on his watch and mandate and could feel a greater sense of loyalty to “get behind it”. Notwithstanding those newly-elected Labour MPs, many incumbents have extended their personal constituency majorities. They can hardly openly agitate against him now after denying May a majority. This might mean a greater intake of moderate Labour MPs onto the Labour frontbench in the next Parliament.
  1. What it means for Scotland
  • SNP losses in Scotland, colleagues have argued, feel like “an endorsement of the Union”, with some going as far as say that “the Union is in safe hands”.
  1. What it means for future political engagement
  • Organisations should consider a new and changed landscape of political stakeholders and influencers. This includes:
    • Recognising the increased strength and relevance of Parliament in holding government to account and the increased influence backbench MPs could have;
    • Appreciating the role of the 10 DUP MPs as king-makers, and understanding the party’s position on Brexit, macro politics and sector issues (transport, energy, etc);
    • Understanding the changed role of Labour MPs and reconsider greater engagement with the Labour frontbench, particularly on issues that could gain broader parliamentary support;
    • Mapping and engaging with a whole range of new local constituency MPs;
    • Taking account of the potentially strengthened hand of Metro Mayors;
    • Taking account of the fact that Downing Street might pay greater attention to Scottish Tories in light of the party’s success in the North.
  • Organisations should also consider how the approach to policy-making might change, and how this should inform priorities and messaging:
    • Brexit was always set to dominate the legislative agenda leaving limited room for additional legislation. With a small working majority, the Government is likely to be even more interested in avoiding legislative process and seeking non-legislative measures to implement policy initiatives. Organisations might wish to review the Conservatives’ manifesto to assess which measures are likely to require legislation and be taken forward, and what measures will form the remainder of the non-legislative policy agenda. At the same time, priority targets for engagement are likely to shift.
    • Depending on conclusions regarding the impact of the youth vote and the likelihood of youth turnout becoming a lasting aspect of future elections, governments (and political parties in generally) might be more open towards adopting and putting forward policies that specifically target young people. Organisations operating in this space should consider this as future opportunities.

That is it for now. Instinctif will keep you updated with analysis as the political situation unfolds.