Author Archives: GK Strategy

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?

Underfunded & Underprepared: Is Britain’s Defence Broken?

GK Adviser Felix Griffin dives into the challenges facing the MoD, from funding shortfalls to sluggish decision-making, and explores potential paths forward.

Incoherent strategy and a lack of funding is hampering progress

The UK’s Ministry of Defence finds itself grappling with a yawning funding gap, a rapidly evolving global landscape demanding a more responsive military, and an uncertain political landscape.

The biggest hurdle? Money – not just the lack of it but also how its spent.

Having fallen down the pecking order in the Chancellor’s recent budget, defence spending is set to receive no additional funding under the current government’s remaining tenure.

Meanwhile rising costs, particularly in nuclear deterrence and ambitious naval programmes, have created a staggering £16.9 billion hole in the MoD’s Equipment Plan – a shortfall which effectively handcuffs the MoD’s ability to modernise its equipment and carry out crucial projects necessary to maintain a robust defence posture.

There’s more to this than just money. Recent warnings highlight long-standing and systemic inventory failures in all three categories of inventory across the UK armed forces: Capital Spares, Raw Material and Consumables, and Guided Weapons, Missiles and Bombs. This raises a critical question: even with increased funding, would the UK be able to effectively equip its armed forces? The current evidence suggests not, presenting a deeper problem that needs addressing.

These issues point not only to a lack of innovation in procurement and strategic thinking, but also to sluggish decision-making processes that hinder the MoD’s ability to react swiftly to emerging threats.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps’s stark assessment of the current situation – a transition from a “post-war world into a pre-war world” – rings all too true. The war in Ukraine serves as a stark reminder of the impact of large-scale conflict in Europe, while regional instability in the Middle East and the ever-growing tensions in the Asia-Pacific all demand a more agile and capable military from the UK. These diverse threats, which are by no means an exhaustive list, require a comprehensive and adaptable defence strategy from the MoD; something which the most recent Integrated Review (2021) failed to deliver, even after it was refreshed in 2023.

With the possibility of a new Labour government becoming increasingly likely, the party’s stance on defence policy and spending adds another layer of uncertainty.

I attended a Policy Exchange event on 28 February, which saw Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, John Healey, articulate his party’s vision for national defence. While recognising outdated practices and the imperative to modernise, Labour’s defence plans appear largely underdeveloped, or at least under-communicated.

Despite outlining some interesting plans, including a new national armaments director and the enhancement of the Chief of Defence Staff’s role, Healey’s speech fell victim to his party’s commitment to fiscal prudence, lacking significant substance and ambition. Though highlighting the state of defence when Labour left in 2010, with comparatively higher levels of defence spending (2.5% of GDP), as well as better troop numbers and satisfaction (over 100,000 soldiers and 60% approval), Healey emphasised the need to streamline existing processes before making financial commitments, underscoring a cautious approach. Nevertheless, Labour’s emphasis on reform and strategic preparedness offers a glimpse into their aspirations for bolstering the nation’s security in an increasingly uncertain world.

GK Launches New Podcast on Trending Policy Issues

Education with Edward Timpson MP

In the inaugural episode of the GK Strategy Podcast, David Laws, GK Strategic Adviser, spoke with the former Children & Families Minister, Edward Timpson MP, about the future of special educational needs and disability policy.

The lively discussion covered everything from SEND policy to social services, with Mr Timpson offering insight into the reform to SEND services and the current policy environment across social care.

Mr Timpson spoke specifically on the 2014 Children and Families Act which he helped push through Parliament. He noted that the legislation “still stands up to scrutiny” 10 years after it was passed and serves as a blueprint for joining up and improving services across education, health and social care. However, he also described some of the challenges associated with the legislation’s implementation, which has led to many parents having vastly different experiences with the SEND system.

During the episode, Mr Laws and Mr Timpson brought to light the “tough” spending environment across the education sector, highlighting the need for increased funding from central government. However, they also touched on other issues that have impacted SEND provision, including the capacity within the workforce, the importance of educational psychologists, SEND ‘deserts’ and out of area provision, and the extent to which mainstream settings should take on more responsibility for SEND provision.

You can listen to the full episode on Spotify here.

Labour and Gender Equality: A Radical Agenda or All Talk?

Following International Women’s Day earlier in March, GK Adviser Rebecca McMahon looks at what an incoming Labour Government could mean for women’s equality.

Labour’s ambitious women’s equality agenda is one to watch

If the Labour Party wins the upcoming General Election, Rachel Reeves will become the UK’s first female Chancellor of the Exchequer and Angela Rayner is set to become the first female Deputy Prime Minister. The number of women in the current Parliamentary Labour Party is at an all-time high of 52.7% and given the number of prospective parliamentary candidates in seats likely to swing to Labour, the number is likely to remain high.

The party has been accused of hollowing out promises related to more radical policies about climate change and workers’ rights. However, it appears the party remains committed to delivering on its ambitious roster of pledges on women’s equality. At the 2023 Labour Party Conference, Rayner announced her intention to amend the Equalities Act to introduce a legal duty for employers to have sexual harassment prevention measures in place. In Rayner’s rallying speech, she combined a commitment to women’s safety with a promise to make their working lives fairer. Measures included toughening sentences for perpetrators of rape and stalking and halving the levels of violence against women and girls. A crackdown on unfair pay and a promise to “empower women entrepreneurs” was also included.

Translating virtuous ideas on empowerment into robust policy is a difficult process. However, the presence of key female decision-makers in the shadow cabinet demonstrates that Labour is not neglecting the importance of senior women for formulating representative policy. Perhaps this will set a precedent for the party to elect a woman to the top spot for the first time (one area in which the Conservatives currently top the tables, 3-0!).