As we look back on ‘Super Thursday’ and reflect on today’s Queen’s Speech, we can see that trends which started a number of years ago have continued to become more embedded across the country. In that sense, Ben Heatley, Managing Partner at Copper suggests we are potentially confronted with an unusual period of political continuity, rather than being buffeted by constant change.
We are in the midst of a major realignment of British politics, with a movement away from class-based voting, to a political map that reflects regional identity, education and culture, more than one that reflects traditional patterns of employment. There is evidence of continued disenfranchisement within towns and less affluent communities, which is being addressed by the Conservatives who promise levelling-up, vs the Labour Party who dominate in metropolitan areas with a more social justice agenda.
These shifting tectonic plates began to move some time ago, and the results from Hartlepool as well as Councils such as Amber Valley, Dudley and Basildon, show that the Conservative’s strategy to connect with ‘ordinary voters’, through promises of making good on Brexit and levelling-up, is working.
The results were not as catastrophic for Labour as initial news headlines may have suggested, with the party winning 11 out of 13 mayoral elections, including taking scalps such as the West of England from the Conservatives. But they have not yet been able to offer a compelling enough message to the voters across the UK, particularly those outside big cities, to show that they have a plan for future electoral success which accounts for the new landscape.
The outcome is that the Conservatives have a clear mandate to progress with their agenda, which builds on the majority they established in the 2019 general election. Their ongoing electoral performance has been boosted by the success of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, a factor that will also allow them to begin to focus on the ‘day-job’ rather than having to grapple with an ever-changing health crisis.
As a result, we can expect them to begin to do more to address key promises they were initially elected to address, namely levelling up and getting Brexit done. Today’s Queen’s speech duly included the promise of a White Paper, which will set the future direction of levelling-up, presumably to include some rationalisation of what the policy really means and greater focus on where investment will be targeted.
But for now, it’s safe to assume that we will see with a continuation of spending on major infrastructure projects including roads, rail and digital infrastructure in order to improve connectivity and productivity, with the High Speed Rail Bill being part of that picture.
The Covid crisis also finally killed off the last remnants of austerity, with the Government stepping in and spending heavily to keep industries afloat, giving them greater political license to operate and to invest.
There is still substantial work to be done to manage the transition from the EU and to demonstrate that the UK can flourish in a post Brexit world. One totemic commitment in this area is to support eight new Freeports, which will act as trading hubs with new markets around the world, while contributing, it is hoped, to substantial job creation in coastal communities.
The environment has been a major area of focus for the government, as it looks ahead to hosting COP in the Autumn and having brought forward a range of commitments to carbon reduction. We will now see an Environment Bill coming forward in this Parliament which will set legal targets, and inevitably shape the future direction of infrastructure development in energy, transport and industry.
This direction reflects a key trend that can be seen on Super Thursday, which is the ongoing growth in votes for the Green Party, who had another good night across the UK. The increase in environmentally minded voters is likely to continue, and as such, demonstrating a coherent programme to address climate change and biodiversity will be critical for all parties, not just the Greens – ‘it’s the environment stupid’.
So as an industry, infrastructure may be able to look to the future with a degree of political certainty and consistency. Key objectives of levelling-up, resetting Britain’s trading relationships post Brexit and striving for net-zero will remain and without the constant buffering from Covid (hopefully) we should start to see greater clarity in terms of how the Government plans to address these issues.
After a number of years of seemingly constant change, this period of stability and progress on policy will be welcomed by many. That is until the election result in Scotland, or the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland forces the government to focus its attentions elsewhere again.