Tag Archives: conservative

Internal strife muddying the waters for both the Conservatives and Labour

GK Point of View – View from Westminster

GK Associate, Joshua Owolabi, assesses Rishi Sunak and Keir Stramer’s recent struggles with rogue MPs. 

Internal strife muddying the waters for both the Conservatives and Labour 

Former Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, joked frequently about the frenetic pace at which politics could move. Over his long career, he became well-acquainted with the turbulence that intra-party politicking could bring. Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak may be able to relate. Clearly, the last few weeks have been taxing for them both as they struggle to deal with internal conflicts. 

There has been scant opportunity for Starmer to enjoy the emphatic byelection result in Wellingborough, where the Labour Party overturned a Conservative majority of over 18,000 votes. It doesn’t matter that only a fortnight ago Starmer led his party to its largest swing in a byelection since 1994. Since then, the Labour Party has needed to clamp down on grassroots dissent over the decision to withdraw support for its Rochdale byelection candidate, Azhar Ali. Days later, Starmer was scrambling to avoid a rebellion and the potential resignation of Shadow Ministers, after the SNP brought forward an opposition day motion on the war in Gaza. 

The Prime Minister has been blindsided yet again by some of the more outspoken Tory MPs. Lee Anderson, who had been Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party as recently as January, had the whip suspended following his incendiary remarks about the Mayor of London. Various Tory MPs have either defended or criticised Anderson since his outburst. Sunak has attempted to placate both sides, calling Anderson’s comments ‘wrong’ while also refusing to label them as ‘Islamophobic’.  

However, Anderson doubling down on the comments has left Sunak with a problem to solve. Can he deal with the Anderson situation in a way that keeps the right-wing of his party happy, but also heeds the calls from ‘One Nation’ MPs for Anderson to be disciplined? Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, the answer to that question seems obvious.  

Meanwhile. a speech from Sunak’s predecessor elicited the response “err… who is Liz Truss?” from a perplexed American audience at a conservative political conference in Maryland. Despite the criticism that Truss’ speech has received, Sunak will be concerned by her decision to lean into conspiracy theories about the ‘deep state’ and her call for Nigel Farage to rejoin the Party. Along with the Lee Anderson headlines, it highlights the way in which Sunak is struggling to control the narrative.  

As Tory factions battle each other for control after the election and the Labour leadership works to limit self-inflicted wounds before it, the approaching Spring Budget hasn’t received much attention. Sunak, Starmer, Hunt and Reeves will need their MPs to get back on message as they set out their economic visions. They’ll be hoping that the infighting of February gives way to a renewed focus on policy in March. 


GK Insights- Student visas reform

GK Point of View – The impact of student visa reforms

GK Associate Hugo Tuckett assesses the recent student visa reforms, and what they mean for the higher education sector.

With the Government continuing to struggle in the polls, Rishi Sunak has launched a full-frontal assault on the immigration system aimed at bringing numbers down and cutting into Labour’s seemingly unassailable lead. 

Following a record net migration figure of 745,000 in 2022, the Government has undertaken a series of measures to tighten the UK’s immigration system. As they are the largest group of non-EU migrants, international students have come into the firing line. 

In May 2023, the Government introduced new restrictions to student visa routes by preventing international students from bringing family members on all but post-graduate research routes, as well as banning people from switching into work routes until their studies have been completed. These measures officially came into force on 1 January 2024. 

The Government expects this to result in an estimated 140,000 fewer people arriving in the UK. However, with years of frozen domestic tuition fees and reductions to teaching grants stemming from Britain’s exit from the EU, it is unclear whether the UK will retain its attractiveness to international students, the very group who have been covering the sector’s budgetary shortfalls. 

Notably, the Government’s own impact assessment refuses to consider the effects of preventing international students from bringing dependants on all but post-graduate research routes, given the lack of available evidence to determine how many students (who bring dependants) will be dissuaded. On a more positive note, the impact assessment finds that only 2% of total students with an expired student visa would be affected by the ban on switching work routes until their studies had been completed. 

Given the distinct possibility that numbers of international students arriving in the UK drop because of the changes, financial pressure will grow on higher education providers who have made over-optimistic assumptions about future growth in international student numbers as a means of balancing the books. 

As we enter an election year in which the Conservatives will be reluctant to loosen immigration controls, the likelihood that some providers collapse under the financial strain cannot be overlooked. 


gk - How is the policy and regulatory environment for rail changing_

Party conference 2023

As the annual conference season draws to a close, possibly the last before a general election next year, the main political parties will be reflecting on the success or otherwise of the Manchester and Liverpool gatherings. Both conferences were attended by our political advisers, who reflect on Conservative and Labour conference below.

As with past conferences, the measure of success differs, this was Rishi Sunak’s first as Tory leader, a more stable but still divided party. Just a year ago Liz Truss led a chaotic prelude to her short time in No10 and this year’s collection of Nigel Farage (as journalist) and long awaited HS2 announcement wasn’t the best backdrop as the Prime Minister attempted to cast his leadership as a force for change. Contrast Liverpool and the balance of a Labour party consistently ahead in the polls, with a more united and coherent party than for the past decade – a gathering of Labour activists who were at pains not to be carried too high on the prospect of government.

In a change to the usual order, the Conservative’s met first. The ongoing saga of will they, won’t they with HS2 didn’t help Rishi Sunak’s first conference as party leader. While the Prime Minister’s team struggled to get a hold of the narrative over the three days in Manchester, the former leader and likely leadership hopeful, Liz Truss and Suella Braverman, were quick to try and seize the agenda. Where the party truly seemed united was on the importance of support for climate action, and this was reflected in the sheer number of well-attended fringe events giving serious attention to how the UK can credibly retain its status as a climate leader. The Conservatives, despite recent announcements seemingly backing away from climate policy, understand that this remains a key vote-winner. Cobbling together a sell-able vision for the climate to the electorate could be make-or-break for the party in any upcoming election.

Sunak’s conference speech, his most important as leader saw the Prime Minister attempt to create some separation between his premiership and what he referred to as the previous “30 years of a political system which incentivises the easy decision, not the right one”. This will be a tough balancing act in the months ahead of the upcoming election. The 30-years Sunak references encompasses not only former Labour leaders Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, but no fewer than five Conservative Prime Ministers. The key question going into an election year will be whether Sunak can create that separation and be given the opportunity to push forward with his ambitious reforms to education, or whether he will be rejected by the electorate as more of the same.

Keir Starmer’s speech embodied Labour conference in Liverpool this week. A leader and a party more at home with its values and a confident, clear, coherent, even hopeful message about Britain’s future – a decade of national renewal. The party wanted a clean conference, a solid platform speaking to business leaders and the wider public, the opportunity now to project Keir Starmer’s message for the country which faced down the shame of the Corbyn-era and proudly bound past Labour success with a party of service, building a new country over the next decade and beyond. The test now is for the party to successfully project the same confidence beyond Liverpool, and Westminster, to the country at large.