Author Archives: GK Strategy

Is Starmer Taking a Risk in His Attempt to Broaden Labour’s Appeal?

GK Advisers Noureen Ahmed and Felix Griffin reflect on Natalie Elphicke’s defection to the Labour Party and what this could mean for the Labour Party ahead of the next general election.

Keir Starmer is keen to exploit divisions within the Conservative Party, but is that enough to convince voters that Labour is a government in waiting?

When MPs took to the Common’s chamber for Prime Minister’s Questions on 8 May, we witnessed Natalie Elphicke defect to the Labour Party – the third Conservative MP to do so during this parliament. As a right-wing MP and vocal critic of Labour’s policies, Elphicke’s defection came as a huge shock to many in Westminster. Elphicke has previously accused Labour of being soft on issues related to human rights and immigration. As a result, there have been concerns from several Labour MPs that Labour’s commitment to tackling those issues could be undermined by her admission to the Party. Starmer’s willingness to embrace a defector from the right of the Conservative Party suggests a strategy aimed at broadening Labour’s appeal to Conservative voters, even if it means alienating the party’s left flank and risking Labour’s reputation on key issues such as social justice. This approach has sparked awkward questions about how far Labour’s leadership is willing to go to win Tory votes.

Labour’s strategy may be effective in the short term, creating a perception of decay within the Tory government and encouraging Conservative voters to switch allegiance. However, the success of the Greens and some independent candidates in recent local elections indicates that anti-Tory sentiment does not necessarily translate into enthusiastic support for Labour. To be truly successful, Labour will need both an appealing policy platform to secure votes at the general election and firm support across parliament.

While further defections may seem unlikely, they should not be ruled out entirely. As Sunak continues to face criticism that he is leading an increasingly chaotic government, it is evident that Labour will do everything it can to secure the victory it has long yearned for.

Will Sunak’s Latest Reset Work?

GK Associate Hugo Tuckett examines the Prime Minister’s recent speech at Policy Exchange and whether he can address the Conservative Party’s declining fortunes.

Rishi Sunak turns his attention to security in bid to tackle Labour’s poll lead.

Following a dismal set of local election results and the high-profile defection of Dover MP Natalie Elphicke to Labour, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has attempted to reset the political agenda. He used his latest relaunch at Policy Exchange, a Conservative-friendly think tank, to portray himself as the best leader to guide the country through what he described as the “dangerous and transformational” years ahead.

References were made throughout to ensuring the UK’s security in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. It was also telling that Sunak made a pitch to voters on the opportunities presented by artificial intelligence – an area where he will feel comfortable promoting his tech credentials against the Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is 17 years his senior.

It is not unusual for incumbent (and unpopular) governments to paint opposition parties as inexperienced and incapable at a time of potential national peril. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown famously argued “this is no time for a novice” in the wake of the 2008 financial crash amid David Cameron’s growing popularity. However, to go for this tactic right at the start of a general election campaign does suggest Sunak’s No.10 operation is running out of levers to pull to tackle Starmer’s seemingly unassailable lead in the polls.

Sunak’s pivot into security marks a clear distinction from his previous attempts to put the Conservatives on the path to election victory. At the 2023 Conservative Party Conference, he tried to paint himself as the change candidate and separate himself from the then 13 years of Conservative rule. Sunak was subsequently forced to adopt a continuity-focused strategy and defend the Conservatives’ record in office following David Cameron’s return as Foreign Secretary later that year.

The extent to which Sunak’s latest reset will work will depend on whether the electorate is still listening. The Conservative Party can highlight its commitment to raise defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030, a pledge yet to be matched by Labour, who have adopted the looser definition of meeting the 2.5% figure “as soon as resources allow.” However, with Labour so far ahead in the polls and three changes of tack in less than a year, it does raise the prospect that the Prime Minister is trying to engage an electorate which is simply no longer interested in what the Conservatives have to offer.

Disrupted Global Supply Chains: Is a Strategic Shift on the Horizon?

GK Adviser Felix Griffin looks at the forces disrupting global supply chains and explores how industries and governments are adapting to this ‘new normal.’

Beyond shortages and delays: the existential challenges facing global supply chains

The intricate network of global supply chains currently faces a confluence of unprecedented challenges. The initial shockwaves of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in meticulously planned production and transportation systems. While there were tentative signs of recovery in 2023, geopolitical developments, like the war in Ukraine and heightening tensions in the Middle East, have exacerbated disruptions, impacting the flow of critical resources. This is compounded by the growing impacts of climate change, which manifests in extreme weather events that disrupt production and transportation, highlighting the limitations of just-in-time manufacturing models. Inflationary pressures are squeezing margins for businesses and impacting consumer spending due to rising costs of raw materials and energy. Labour shortages in many industries add another layer of complexity, creating bottlenecks and hindering smooth operations.

The consequences of these pressures are far-reaching. Consumers face significant price hikes across various goods, driven in part by supply chain disruptions. Shortages of certain products are becoming commonplace, and even when available, delivery times have significantly increased. Businesses are caught in a precarious position, struggling to meet demand while grappling with rising costs and the potential for product scarcity.

The question remains: are these disruptions a temporary blip or a sign of a new normal? Experts suggest that we are entering a new era for global supply chains, one that necessitates a paradigm shift towards increased resilience. Businesses need to adapt and become more agile to navigate this increasingly complex landscape. Diversifying their supplier base and production locations can mitigate risk by reducing reliance on any single geographic region. Nearshoring, the practice of relocating production closer to consumer markets, can lessen dependence on long-distance transportation, which is vulnerable to disruptions and rising fuel costs. Technological advancements offer a compelling solution where they can be realised. Investments in automation and data analytics can enhance efficiency, transparency, and even enable real-time adjustments to production based on fluctuating demand.

Governments themselves play a crucial role in ensuring supply chain integrity. Strengthening import/export controls and fostering domestic production of critical goods can lessen reliance on potentially volatile regions. Fostering international cooperation on supply chain diversification and transparency is proving to mitigate risks and ensure access to essential resources during periods of heightened tension. Echoing the concerns of Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, this new era necessitates a reassessment of national security risks embedded within globalised supply chains. Dowden aptly pointed out, in a recent address at Chatham House, that while globalisation has brought economic benefits, it has also exposed vulnerabilities. The recent actions announced by the UK government, including a review of Outward Direct Investment (ODI) risks and an update to the National Security and Investment (NSI) Act, serve as a model for other nations. These steps acknowledge the potential for exploitation by hostile actors, as highlighted by Russia’s manipulation of gas prices and China’s use of economic coercion. By working collaboratively with the private sector, governments can play a crucial role in building a more resilient and secure global supply chain network for the future.

Building a more resilient and adaptable supply chain network is not without its challenges. It requires a strategic shift in perspective and potentially higher upfront investment. However, the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial obstacles. By collaborating effectively, businesses and governments can foster a more robust system that ensures a smoother flow of goods, minimises disruptions, and ultimately benefits all stakeholders, from manufacturers and retailers to consumers across the globe.

Women and Health – Why women are such an important demographic for Labour

GK Adviser Noureen Ahmed reflects on the Government’s priorities in its Women’s Health Strategy and explores the challenges Labour can expect to face in the women’s and wider health space should the party form the next government.

At the start of 2024, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins outlined her top priorities for 2024 under the Women’s Health Strategy, which came into effect two years ago. The Strategy was welcomed by the sector, due to the Government demonstrating its commitment to improving care and treatment for women. Women are routinely under-represented, particularly when it comes to clinical trials; this hinders our understanding on how a number of health problems such as cancer, endometriosis, and other gynaecological conditions impact women from a wide range of backgrounds. As women make up around 51 per cent of the population, tackling these obstacles is vital to ensuring improved outcomes for women’s health.

Under the Government’s priorities for women’s health this year, there are several initiatives expected to be implemented. These include plans to expand women’s health hubs, bolster pre- and post-natal care as well as improve support for vulnerable women. The Government has also committed to more funding for research, which would look into how women are represented in medical research.

Nevertheless, given how close we are to the next General Election (likely in October or November of this year), questions have been raised on whether such policies will actually be enacted over the coming months.

The priorities for 2024 came as a result of a Government consultation which aimed to learn more about women’s health issues, and to better understand women’s experiences of the healthcare system. The call for evidence received over 100,000 responses and demonstrated a clear consensus that health services at present fail to meet women’s day to day needs. The Women’s Health Strategy has been deemed ambitious, given it aims to “radically improve the way in which the health and care system engages and listens to all women and girls.” For the Government, the Strategy is much needed and will form “the next step on the journey to reset the dial on women’s health.”

The Labour Party has stressed its ambition to prioritise women’s health should it come into power, as well as to ensure all women – regardless of their background – have access to better quality care. In addition to its pledge to invest in women’s health services, Labour also confirmed its plans to increase access to reproductive healthcare, address gender inequalities in healthcare settings, and ensure women’s health services are equipped with the vital staff and resources needed.

As the likelihood of a Labour Government increases in the run up to the next General Election, Labour faces the challenge of demonstrating how it will ‘revive’ the NHS, with the health service having been chronically stretched and underfunded over the past decade. At present, the NHS faces a raft of issues related to recruitment, staff pay, industrial action and waiting lists which remains stubbornly high – prompting more people to take out private medical insurance. Should Labour come into power, the party will be undertaking a huge task to alleviate the crisis but will be limited in terms of how much substantial progress can be made by financial constraints.

Women make up a significant proportion of the population and so, inevitably, their choices greatly influence election outcomes. For Labour in particular, women’s votes will be essential if it wants to secure an electoral majority. It is imperative that the party works to engage effectively with women and ensure their concerns and aspirations for women’s healthcare are listened to and used to develop and implement effective policy.

GK Strategy are experts in the health policy landscape. Get in touch with noureen@gkstrategy.com if you’d like to hear more from our consultants.

The Impact of National Party Popularity on Local Politics

GK Associate Hugo Tuckett and GK Adviser Rebecca McMahon discuss the extent to which voter perception of national parties will shape the upcoming local election results.

Can local Conservative campaigners turn the tide on a bleak national picture?

Labour’s national polling lead over the Conservatives appears deeply entrenched. According to YouGov, the Party has held a 20+ point lead since September 2022. While on a national level the polls indicate that the Conservatives could be heading for annihilation in 2024, could there be a ray of hope for Conservative mayors and councillors ahead of the local elections on 2 May? Does national polling translate to voter preferences locally?

Support for the Conservatives under Boris Johnson’s leadership only consistently fell behind Labour following high-profile events such as Owen Paterson’s breaching of parliamentary rules on lobbying and the Partygate scandal. Rishi Sunak (with a little help from Liz Truss’ short-lived premiership) has been unable to turn the tide on the Party’s lack of national appeal.

Sunak has been unable to solidify Conservative support in the red wall – a key element of its 2019 voter coalition – and polling indicates that all red wall seats won will return to Labour at the upcoming general election, expected in October or November. Traditional Conservative voters from both wings of the Party are also deserting it over perceived policy failings. Voters focused on immigration policy are increasingly voicing support for Reform UK, and the Liberal Democrats are making inroads with environmentally aware voters in Southern England.

However, with local elections taking place in early May, will these national trends translate to local level results?

Pollster Ipsos Mori has found that 42% of voters considered local factors most important in determining their vote in local elections. However, 33% of those polled also said that party policies on national issues were a decisive factor.

Conservative mayoral candidates have sought to distance themselves from their Party’s national brand and promote their personal appeal ahead of polling day. Andy Street, the West Midlands Mayor, has largely excluded references to the Conservative Party from his campaign material and, by his own admission, is running an individual ‘brand Andy’ campaign. Similarly, Conservative MP Ben Bradley, candidate for the East Midlands mayoralty, admitted to adopting a similar strategy, saying there is “clearly not a brilliant national picture”.

The extent to which these candidates can successfully separate themselves from the national party brand may be crucial to their success at a local level. However, with a third of voters saying party policies on national issues will be key in deciding how they vote in local elections, local campaigners could be bound by their Party’s national fortunes.

View from Westminster: Local Elections Expected to Increase Pressure on the Prime Minister

GK Associate Joshua Owolabi and GK Adviser Noureen Ahmed assess the mood in Westminster ahead of the local elections in May.

Conservative Party (dis)unity in focus ahead of the local elections

With local elections taking place on 2 May, all eyes are firmly on the Conservatives, as the party braces for defeat. Respected psephologists Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings, the Directors of the Local Government Chronicle’s Elections Centre, have predicted that the Party could potentially lose up to 500 seats, if it repeats its poor performance from the 2023 local elections. This would see half of the Tory councillors facing election lose their seats. Despite the optimism from Sunak’s allies that fellow Tory MPs will not agitate for yet another change in leadership, a heavy defeat could be perilous for the Prime Minister.

Speculation continues in Westminster about the implications of defeat for Sunak and his government. In recent months, press coverage has focused on whether a rebel group of MPs and former Tory advisers were plotting to use the election results to further undermine Sunak’s authority. There is already ammunition for the plotters to use, such as the rebellion in mid-April over the Second Reading of the Tobacco and Vaping Bill. The rebellion was orchestrated by the Tory right, and included potential successors, such as Kemi Badenoch. Although the Government won the vote, it was a reminder that party discipline is still lacking – an ominous sign ahead of the local elections.

Sunak’s opponents within the Conservative Party will be well aware of the historical significance of local elections. In 1979, 1997 and 2010 respectively, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron all secured general election victories following strong performances in the local elections that preceded them. As a general election is only a few months away, many would question how a change in leadership would be beneficial to the Party. However, if the Conservatives are routed by Keir Starmer’s Labour, then it presents disgruntled MPs with a choice – are their plans to prevent a general election defeat best served by pressuring the Prime Minister on policy and strategy in private, or are more drastic measures required?