The 2019 general election has led to several big changes in how Parliament and Government will do business over the next five years. What are they, and what do they mean for businesses affected by policy and regulatory change who want to make their voice in Westminster and Whitehall?
The Conservatives’ victory in December – securing them the largest parliamentary majority of any single-party government for more than a decade – means that the way in which businesses engage with government and Westminster politics has to evolve. While ‘getting Brexit done’ is a natural priority for Boris Johnson, there is a host of domestic policy issues that his administration has the political capital to address over the course of the next five years. This will be dictated to some extent by the shape of the Conservative majority, having taken seats in the North and Midlands that the party has not won for decades; there will be a prioritisation of these parts of the country as they seek to retain these seats at the next election, including further discussions about devolution and new infrastructure, as well as relating developments in education, health and other areas to the concerns of voters in these constituencies. The emerging policy responses to this will be at the forefront of the minds of savvy businesses who are engaging with government and political stakeholders.
While accounting for the importance of new MPs’ priorities, the scale of the Conservatives’ victory last month also means that the overall balance of power between Government and Parliament shifts again. A minority administration attempting to push through contentious Brexit-related bills had meant that Parliament had effectively seized control of the legislative agenda a much greater extent than in recent times; with a healthy majority, the Government will rarely have to worry about finding the path of least parliamentary resistance and will instead feel emboldened in putting radical policies before the House of Commons. Individual parliamentary champions for specific causes might still hold some sway around issues that chime with the Government’s own priorities; there may be less space for opposition MPs to influence the agenda, but there are likely to be ambitious new Conservative MPs with designs on junior ministerial posts speaking up from the backbenches. If seeking to engage with MPs and peers, this new dynamic will be an important consideration for businesses.
It is not only the size of the majority in Parliament that will influence the Prime Minister’s policy agenda and approach to governing. Johnson’s very different style of leadership from his predecessor will come to the fore over the coming months, with Secretaries of State and junior ministers taking more direct responsibility for leading the charge on their respective policy areas and less of a ‘command and control’ approach from Downing Street. Alongside this, there is also the possibility of wider changes to how the machinery of government works as consequence of Johnson’s victory. Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s key aide, and Rachel Wolf, author of the Conservative election manifesto, have both called for radical structural changes to be made to the civil service – not just in Downing Street and the cabinet, but across Whitehall. These ongoing shifts in decision-making and accountability within government will mean that businesses need to find new and different ways of engaging as they seek to understand where individual ministerial priorities lie and how a reshaped civil service will deliver them.
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