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by GK Strategy 8th May, 2015
3 min read

The Opposition Opportunity

As the aftershocks from last night’s political earthquake continue to make themselves felt, we saw another remarkable tremor this morning: a crazy hour in which three party leaders resigned. There is a possibility that a fourth, Natalie Bennett, may follow before the day is out – although given the Green Party had set its sights rather low given their chequered campaign, perhaps she will yet be spared.

Regardless, it must be unprecedented for three party leaders, including the official opposition, and the third and fourth parties at the general election, to see their leaders depart so rapidly and in such short order. Nigel Farage had already indicated that if he didn’t win in Thanet South he would go. But the predictions of the BBC’s exit poll last evening would have been enough to see Clegg and Miliband out of the door too, and the situation has only worsened for both men since it was first broadcast.

The implications for the parties are clear. All of them will have to run leadership elections, with the methods employed to find the next leader varying wildly between Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP. However, more important is the potential impact on our democracy, and the decision-making process in Parliament.

While the narrative in today’s media is undoubtedly triumphalist for David Cameron, who will be enjoying every moment of his victory, that covers over the probability that the next two years – let alone the next five – will be fraught with challenges. A small Conservative majority of around 10 means that Cameron will have to manage his Parliamentary Party with an iron fist. This is something he has persistently failed to do over his first term, with frequent rebellions causing real damage to government policy. What’s more, these have often been self-inflicted; the result of too many clever-clever Parliamentary games played by the whips, especially since Michael Gove took over as Chief Whip.

The likelihood is that Cameron will find himself hampered by this “awkward squad”, much as John Major was frustrated by “the bastards” in 1992-1997. The challenge of maintaining discipline will be such that compromises and concessions are a regular feature within the Conservatives, even if outwardly it appears as though the party is united. Nowhere will this be more apparent than on the EU referendum, which now looms large and it is likely that Cameron will come under serious pressure from a big chunk of his MPs to move it forward.

The importance of a strong and effective opposition – whether from one or multiple parties – should therefore be obvious. By taking positions that are intelligent but critical, opposition parties should be able to make life difficult for a government on such a small majority, potentially convincing enough backbenchers to rebel to force amendments or even vote down legislation. But how can this be achieved given both the weakness of Labour and the Lib Dems, and the restrictions inherent in the SNP’s position as a nationalist party no longer in its expected position of negotiating strength?

That question is one that those parties will actively be considering, even as they prepare to weigh up the options for the next phase of their political journeys. But they will also need help. New leaders tend to want to impose their own policy agenda and ideas on their parties. Given the parlous state of party finances for both Labour and the Lib Dems, the involvement of external organisations, businesses and thought-leaders in shaping policy development will be critical. There should therefore be substantial opportunities for pressure to be brought to bear and ideas to be sold in as the new hierarchies and structures become clear over the next few months. The same goes, of course, for the government backbenchers who will find that their votes are critical to the success of the Conservatives’ policy agenda.

GK Strategy provides services to assist in identifying and developing such opportunities. These can be of real benefit, whether to individual businesses or charities, or to entire industries that have perhaps failed previously to gain the kind of traction they deserve. If you would like to know more, please feel free to contact us.

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