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Post-General Election Analysis

electionsBrunswick’s Andrew Porter asks where Britain is heading

DAVID Cameron has led his party for 10 years. Finally, he is governing as a Conservative. His victory, which few predicted would be as decisive as it was, is the first by a Conservative leader for 23 years.

The Queen’s Speech

To mark the occasion, the Queen’s Speech on 27 May 2015 contained a slew of long-held Tory ambitions, ranging from welfare reform to immigration controls and an EU referendum. All of these measures had featured prominently in the Conservative election manifesto.

Downing Street hailed the legislative package as a ‘One Nation’ programme designed to unite the country, provide economic security and deliver social justice for all.

Security and stability were the rhetorical cornerstones of the speech. The government promised to provide stability for people “at every stage of life,” underpinned by a balanced economy and strong exports. The government vowed to continue reducing the deficit, promote productivity and create full employment.

The People

As part of that push, the message of Mr Cameron’s post-election Cabinet reshuffle was that a younger breed of ministers who have overcome the odds would now lead the Conservative charge in this Parliament.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid and Cabinet Office Minister Robert Halfon have been given a platform to promote ‘blue collar Toryism’ designed to appeal to working people as well as entrepreneurs and business leaders. Mr Javid’s father, Abdul, arrived in Britain from Pakistan in 1961, with a £1 note that he believed would pay for his first month in the country. According to the new Business Secretary his father earned the nickname ‘Mr Night and Day’ because of all the hours he put in working as a bus driver.

Mr Javid, who has hung a portrait of Margaret Thatcher on his new office wall, rose through the Tory ranks having turned his back on a successful City career in 2010.

Mr Halfon is one of his party’s most effective and enthusiastic campaigners and has never let the form of cerebral palsy he was born with deter his advance up the political ladder.

Other promotions such as Tracey Crouch to Sports Minister have been carefully thought through. Miss Crouch is a Kent MP and part-time football coach. Her elevation at a time when football governance is in the spotlight like never before is seen as a breath of fresh air.

Initial signs

Having thrown off the shackles of coalition, the Conservatives used the Queen’s Speech to make a bold attempt to extend the Conservative brand beyond the affluent parts of England and challenge the perception that the Conservatives are only ‘for the rich.’

The Enterprise Bill is designed to create two million jobs and cut at least £10 billion worth of red tape over the next five years. It will also introduce a cap on public sector redundancy pay and enable the swift resolution of disputes for small businesses.

Another Conservative agenda that has found a receptive audience is Mr Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse. That is the collection of programmes designed to re-energise many of the towns and cities of Northern England and make them a destination for international investment. The plans include schemes to increase business investment, revitalise transport routes, support higher education and inject a new confidence to the region.

Where the government will need to tread carefully is in its handling of its slim House of Commons majority. Rebel Conservative MPs will grow much more powerful than they were in the previous Parliament, so party management and internal communications have become a priority for Mr Cameron and his team. It has been the power of backbench Conservative MPs over recent years that has pushed Mr Cameron towards promising a referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union. He now has to make good his election pledge to hold the vote before the end of 2017.

In recent weeks the Prime Minister has embarked on a number of diplomatic trips to EU capital cities for talks about what powers the UK can wrestle back from the EU. These powers will then be packaged as a fundamental re-setting of the UK’s relationship with the EU and Mr Cameron will urge citizens to vote for staying in the 28-strong bloc. His task will not be easy. To help him he has assembled a dedicated Downing Street team who will concentrate solely on this issue.

Mr Cameron has been careful to pick his battles in the early days of this Parliament. One he has decided not to fight initially is over the Human Rights Act. Despite Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s determination to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, the government has already backed down for fear of a revolt by backbench Conservative MPs and a handful of unnamed serving ministers.

Instead of a British Bill of Rights, there will be another consultation on human rights, which will be relevant to business and diplomatic audiences as many legal challenges and legislative debates draw on international law and human rights.

The government knows that it has to live with the SNP and other nationalist audiences. Four of the 26 bills in the Queen’s Speech were devoted to devolution in an attempt to bring the country together and stimulate economic growth in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and provincial England.

The next political set-piece is George Osborne’s Budget on 8 July. The Budget is the government’s best opportunity to set the political agenda for the next five years while Labour and the Liberal Democrats remain leaderless and factional. The prize is victory for the Conservatives in the 2020 election. The challenge is how to pay for their policies while balancing the books.

There are a number of outstanding questions. Will the Chancellor stick to the spending plans set out in the March Budget, or will he smooth the pace of spending cuts?  Will he change the balance of their fiscal consolidation, with more coming from tax rises and benefit cuts and less from cuts to departmental spending?

Some of the answers have already arrived with the news that the government’s remaining stake in Royal Mail will be sold.

But we will have to wait for the Spending Review in the autumn before gleaning more detail about what it means for spending in individual government departments.


Review overview

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