Policy continues despite politics

7 Jun 2022

Detailed policy with real regulatory impact will continue to progress without regard for political drama. In this blog, Ed Bowie looks at the need for business to stay focused despite the political noise.

Despite the political noise, businesses and those who liaise with government must not take their eye off the ball.  Westminster wobbles rarely impact the machinery of government: whomever is Prime Minister or indeed a Cabinet minister in reality has little bearing on the more mundane policy initiatives that not only survive leadership movements, but in most cases survive changes of the party in government.

No regulatory respite

The vast array of upcoming legislation contained in this year’s packed Queen’s Speech – including the wide-ranging Brexit Freedoms Bill – and the prospect that political events in the last 24 hours has only served to push back the next General Election, means that the wheels of government will continue to turn in the aftermath of yesterday’s vote.  In the meantime, detailed policy with real regulatory impact – from the energy strategy, the security of data storage infrastructure and the UK’s regulatory framework for financial services – will continue to progress without regard for political drama.

For the Government, the policy refresh will come at a more macro level, with less direct impact on business.  We are likely to see a greater focus on simpler themes around tax, spending and growth, supercharged by a likely reshuffle which will carry with it No. 10’s expectations of a new discipline from Cabinet members.  Jesse Norman MP’s critique of Boris Johnson’s premiership was notable not just for how compelling it was, but because it centred on his policy concerns with the Government’s direction of travel.  Notably, the privatisation of Channel 4 and restrictions on protesting were called out as being un-Conservative in their nature.

Detailed policy with real regulatory impact ... will continue to progress without regard for political drama.

Ed Bowie, DRD Associate

Political positioning

In response, Johnson’s appeal to backbenchers yesterday reportedly centred on his vow to cut taxes and deregulate as a pathway to growth.  Those are unsurprising policy prescriptions for a Tory, but that is the point – that sort of direction has been surprisingly lacking from this Government so far, to the alarm of Tory MPs.  But retail policies such as those listed by Norman explicitly do appeal to many Tories, demonstrating just how muddled the PM’s route to secure leadership is.

For the Labour Party, it’s the dream result.  Operation Big Dog, as No. 10 has reportedly named the mission to keep their jobs, has succeeded – for now – but the damage to Johnson’s premiership is serious and will only reveal its true extent in due course.  In the meantime, the Tories are quite plainly divided and distracted.  Labour will make hay, knowing only too well how infighting looks to the public and having (for now) dodged the prospect of a newly installed Tory leader with the benefit of a fresh start.  Despite publicly calling for him to go, the Labour Party is privately perfectly happy to keep Johnson where he is, wounded.

For the Tory rebels – and there’s only 148 of them – the early lesson to be learned is an obvious one.  They must coalesce around a viable alternative – doing so will deny No. 10 its only real defence yesterday, being that throwing out Johnson would lead to more chaos and ultimately a Labour government.  With two by-election losses on the horizon, and the prospect of a rule change to the powerful 1922 Committee, the rebels will need to articulate an alternative vision and leader.  In part, the very nature of Johnson’s weakness presents a barrier to the rebels’ chances of unifying around a candidate.  Publicly, MPs from every side of the parliamentary party – Red Wallers, Brexiteers and One Nation conservatives – all voiced their problems with the Prime Minister.  Now, if they are to have any prospect of striking and succeeding, the rebels will somehow need to discern their unifying them – if there is one at all beyond ousting Big Dog.

The detail matters most

Johnson has bought himself (some) time, and as a result those in business and who engage with Government will need to be agile in responding to an upcoming change in high-level policy and tone from No. 10.  But the political machinations of Westminster don’t change the minutiae of policy that can so often have a bigger impact on industry and everyday lives.  Business and industry groups must not sit back in the expectation that things are about to fall over or that the Government is totally distracted.