Tag Archives: Conservatives

GK Strategy – General Election Update

General Election Results Briefing

The GK team reacts to the 2024 General Election results, with GK’s Strategic Advisers sharing their insights on Labour’s historic victory, and the implications for Sir Keir Starmer’s new government.

To read our briefing please click here.

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.

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?

Council Tax Reform

Reflections on the Future of Council Tax

GK Associate Hugo Tuckett assesses the likelihood of council tax reform amid rising concern about local authority financial resilience.

Is council tax reform on the horizon?

Amid rising bankruptcies in recent years, and growing concern about the sustainability of council finances, funding mechanisms for local authorities – and particularly council tax – are attracting growing political scrutiny.

In December 2023, the Local Government Association reported that almost one in five council leaders and chief executives it surveyed think it is very or fairly likely that they will need to issue a Section 114 notice this year or next due to a lack of funding. A Section 114 notice is issued by a council’s finance officer if they believe the council’s expenditure will exceed the resources it has available. Eleven Section 114 notices have been issued since 2018, with only five issued in the 30 years prior.

Given that council tax receipts now make up over half of local authority spending power (56.9% in 2023-24 compared to 49.1% in 2015-16), ensuring the council tax regime is operating effectively is critical to the long-term sustainability of local authority finances.

The Levelling Up Committee recently made a series of recommendations to the Government on council tax reform. In its report, the Committee reiterated its previous conclusions about the “unfairness and outdatedness of the council tax regime”.

The Government has since said it has no plans to conduct a revaluation of council tax bands (the Committee’s key recommendation) as, amongst other factors, “it would particularly risk those on a lower income, including pensioners, who have seen their homes appreciate in value”.

Here is the focal point of political discourse. A Conservative Government, aware that (according to recent YouGov polling) the Party is now the most popular only among the over-70s, will be aggrieved to conduct a revaluation of property bands which would hit the pockets of its core voter base. A Labour government on the other hand, with traditionally greater allegiances to younger, non-home owning voters and those on lower incomes could take a fresh look at this issue. One option likely to be under consideration is the introduction of new, higher bands of council tax.

Given the Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has ruled out numerous tax rises ahead of the upcoming General Election, council tax reform represents one revenue-raising lever still available to her. While the details of any potential reform are still unknown, it is a near certainty that the council tax regime will only grow in political salience in the years ahead.

The Fallout from the Horizon Scandal

GK Point of View – The Fallout from the Horizon Scandal

GK Adviser Rebecca McMahon assesses the potential impact of the Horizon scandal on the Labour Party’s procurement plans.  

How will the Horizon Scandal influence Labour policy? 

The renewed focus on the Post Office’s procurement of Fujitsu’s Horizon software has brought to light procurement issues which are pertinent to the Labour Party. 

Labour has already committed to increasing oversight of government procurement – Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves has proposed a “covid corruption commissioner” watchdog to recover taxpayer money lost due to the Government’s VIP “fast lane” for contract delivery during the pandemic. Evidently, the Party is keen on a system where both the Government and individual suppliers are held to greater account. The Horizon scandal only adds to its case. 

The Party is not just set on preventing bad outcomes from government procurement; they are also aiming to use it as an actively positive instrument, with Deputy Leader Angela Rayner placing an emphasis on “social and environmental factors”.  

She also urged the Government to ensure that “contracts do not always automatically go offshore” and instead are awarded “to businesses creating local jobs, skills and training”. Labour has also said it would “make social value mandatory in public contract design”, introducing measures to promote “decent work” and strengthen supply chains. 

Labour to lean on procurement to digitalise services? 

As well as encouraging more ethical procurement, Labour is also keen to use procurement to further digitalise public services. This is especially true of the NHS, where key figures like Wes Streeting, Shadow Health Secretary, have been vocal about the need to invest in innovative health technologies and make more effective use of health data. 

However, in the wake of the Horizon controversy, any efforts to radically digitalise the NHS will be caveated by important questions about accountability. 

Whether or not digitalisation will be a quick fix for the UK’s declining health provision, it is likely to be a key area for procurement under a Labour government. UK healthtech has expanded nine-fold since 2016, and the sector’s future could be bright under a future Starmer government.