What’s that coming over the hill? It’s an election…

Parliament returned last week, and as the political calendar looks to the party conference season, we approach 2024, the year during which the election will almost certainly take place.

With this steady march towards the election focusing minds, there are three key issues that will dominate political discourse in the months ahead:

  1. The economy
  2. Net zero
  3. Demonstrating competency

It’s the economy, stupid

With the rate of inflation falling again to 6.4% in July, down from 7.9% in June, and the economy faring much better after Covid-19 than previously thought, the Conservative Government is making progress against its pledges to halve inflation by the end of the year and to grow the economy.

However, with continuing hikes to the cost of food, housing and energy, the economy is still an issue on which Labour will be confident of being able to make ground against the Conservatives. A YouGov poll has found that voters place more trust in Labour on the economy, with 25% of the public trusting them to do a better job, compared to 21% trusting the Conservatives.

With voters likely to vote according to their wallets, all the parties will need to shore up their economic credentials.

For the Conservatives, ensuring the core inflation rate continues to fall and the economy begins to grow will be critical.

Challenges to delivering net zero

The controversy surrounding the expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London has served as a lesson for the parties; achieving net zero at the cost of voters’ wallets could cost seats.

Following the Conservative’s win at the Uxbridge by-election in July, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has begun to shift his government’s approach to climate policy in what he calls a ‘proportionate and pragmatic way’. The Government is set to reject the Climate Change Committee’s advice to halt the expansion of airports, and has approved licences for North Sea oil and gas. Clearly, he feels that he needs to serve up a healthy dose of climate scepticism to secure votes.

While the Labour Party is unlikely to follow suit, it will be conscious of not appearing tone-deaf to the concerns of voters when it comes to the consumer cost of environmental policies.

It is clear the parties will need to walk a fine line when balancing their approaches to meeting the UK’s climate goals, and maintaining an international reputation for climate action, and tackling the cost-of-living crisis.

Appearing competent

The crumbling schools’ crisis has put the Conservative Government’s ability to handle an emergency, and its austerity policy, in the spotlight.

But beyond the specifics of aerated concrete, the issue reveals a wider challenge facing the Conservatives. Ultimately, voters crave competency, and until recently it was almost a given that the electorate would regard the Conservatives as the ‘safe bet’ on issues such as the economy.

Liz Truss’ ill fated premiership, and her Chancellor’s ‘mini-budget’, set in train a narrative that, perhaps, the Tories’ ability to manage the big issues has slipped away.

Labour, in response, will hope to tread a safer path – not taking unnecessary risks on policy commitments, particularly around spending commitments. With a substantial poll lead, it is the Conservatives, not Labour, that need to pull a polling rabbit out of the hat.

What it means for businesses engaging with government

Against this backdrop, when considering engaging with policy makers, if you have an ask, or an offer, it’s vital you present it through the prism of the looming general election, and the priorities of each party.

  1. Do your asks help the parties achieve their economic ambitions? In particular, is it supported by views of the public, and therefore voters, and is it fully costed?
  2. How does your proposal match up to the net zero approaches of each party? Could your proposal be framed as helping with the cost-of-living crisis – or conversely, is there a risk of adding to the burden facing households?
  3. Do you have ideas on how the incoming government can improve outcomes in areas where capital spending has decreased in recent years?

By considering your engagement in this way, you will create the most compelling proposition possible, and ensure your views are heard at a time when the parties are ready to listen.

If you’d like to have an informal chat about what the upcoming general election means for your business, and building a public affairs programme in the run-up, please get in touch via [email protected]

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Emily Reid