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Client Update - 6th October 2023

Let the battle commence. This week we had the Conservative Party conference and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tried very hard to crank things up with bold policy statements to kick off the election campaigning for next year and to focus his re-election campaign on the theme of change. The slogan “Long term decisions for a brighter future” has been unveiled. The Prime Minister mentioned “change” 30 times in his speech as he finished off with the statement “It is time for change, and we are it”. This fresh approach to leadership can be added to his previous comments on a watered-down net zero target to enforce a fresh approach to previously announced policies.

The British Election Study has published data that if people are concerned about the economy, they tend to vote Labour and more and more voters are now saying that Brexit has hurt the UK economy, and therefore hold the Tories responsible. The cost-of-living crisis that is predominantly due to the Covid pandemic, has actually been mainly blamed on Brexit by the Labour party and this sentiment seems to be gathering momentum.

In a YouGov survey, 59% of participants believe Brexit has hurt Britain only because it has been mishandled by the Conservatives. Sunak’s speech focused on bold decisions and tried to distance himself from the last 13 years of Tory reign. He announced the decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2 (with a quarter of the saving going to fixing potholes), making cigarette sales illegal for future generations and to overhaul A-levels. It is clear that the Conservatives believe radical change is required to give them any hope in next year’s elections. Scrapping HS2 has undoubtedly allowed some fiscal slack to possibly allow tax cuts in the Budget to help in the 2024 election battle.

One area that requires focus is the much higher levels of tactical voting in Conservative seats in recent local elections – i.e. people were just voting to get Tories out, and were happy to accept either Labour or the Liberal Democrats to achieve it. Kier Starmer is certainly not as feared with regards to his effect on the nation as Jeremy Corbyn. Therefore Liberal Democratic voters who allegedly voted Tory previously to stop Labour, this time they are expected to vote Liberal Democratic. The success of the Liberal Democrats taking votes away from the Conservatives was a key part in Labour, under Tony Blair, marching into power in 1997. I understand that the Liberal Democrats are busily preparing local campaigns for local seats and avoiding a national anti-Brexit campaign – very conscious of the damage their coalition with the Conservatives did to their political reputation previously.

Brexit was predicated on a globally buccaneering Britain benefitting from international trade. Low and behold in the years that follow Covid, we see de-globalisation, reshoring of key manufacturing hubs and protectionism that have hampered Britain’s attempt to be a global trading partner.

As the first real blows have been thrown as we move towards a 2024 election, change indeed may be coming, but right now it looks like unless the Prime Minister can pull the fractured elements of his party back together under a common theme, then the only change we see will be in the party running the country this time next year. It is said, however, that 12 months is a very long time in politics.

Next week’s email will be coming to you a day early on the Thursday. Do have a good weekend.

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