Political Intelligence for Businesses working with Government

GUIDE delivers political and market intelligence for corporate clients. To find out more, email Chief Executive Greig Baker on greig@theguideconsultancy.com 

That £1bn hasn’t been spent yet.

In a quiet answer to a Written Parliamentary Question, the Treasury confirms that “it will be for the restored Northern Ireland Executive to determine” how to spend the £1bn secured by the DUP to prop up the Conservatives.

In other words, the cash will not be released until Sinn Fein and the DUP get back together at Stormont – if they ever can. That the DUP’s money does not come without strings adds another twist in assessing how long the Government can hold its majority together in the Commons.

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Look out for this at Conservative conference…

Tory Ministers using their time with the faithful in Manchester to announce new spending commitments, either in their own bailiwick or for the Government generally, will reveal three political truths.

First, new policies will reflect what Conservatives feel must to be done to counter Corbyn. Second, they will be a measure of May’s ability to force a unified message from Cabinet and support for Hammond’s prep for the November Budget. And third, they will signal the Government’s macroeconomic approach – there’s still no money left, so new spending would keep debt reduction out of reach.

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Politics and housing

DCLG has just published a new house building consultation. The Government proposes to incentivise Councils by letting them increase planning application fees in return for permitting more developments and it also wants Councils to ‘work together’ across borders to help avoid building on the green belt. The proposals create opportunities for large scale developers with the capacity to work with more than one Local Authority and pay higher fees to those Councils approving more applications.

Full details are here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-right-homes-in-the-right-places-consultation-proposals

Data Protection Bill – coming to a business near you (yours)

The Government has published guidance on its new Data Protection Bill, which is effectively the new EU regulations (GDPR), plus a bit.

It will be very wide-ranging, concerning every business regardless of size. The only discrepancy might come in how UK regulators police the new requirements immediately after May 2018, with the Information Commissioner intending to take “a fair and reasonable approach to enforcement”, reflecting higher expectations of big firms and suppliers to the public sector.

The two tests for the legislation are whether enough SMEs will comply with it to make it practicable and what happens when regulators from different jurisdictions have competing interpretations of the new law – which could be an especially acute problem for Government Departments using cloud services with data physically secured in a country outside the EU.

Date of the next General Election

The Conservatives have a new factor to consider in deciding when to go to the country. As well as working out how to address Corbyn’s surge and demonstrating progress on Brexit, they will be keen to avoid presenting a potential Labour government with the extended so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’ associated with the Withdrawal Bill. As such, if the next election is brought forward from 2022, it’s likely to be after any temporary new legislative powers have expired.

Three reasons whips need friends in politics

They used to say that in the House of Commons, your opponents are in front of you but your enemies are behind you. Today’s parliament is trying to break that convention, with the lack of coordination between the Conservative and Labour whips’ offices showing that sour relations across the chamber are all too real.

Apart from taking some of the fun out of MPs’ days, this is having three practical effects: first, the traditional ‘pairing’ system, whereby an MP from one party promises not to vote so a colleague from another party can attend their child’s school play or go to the dentist, is not up and running; second, the tensions helped to allow a delay in allocating Select Committee places to backbench MPs; and third, it increases the animosity and suspicion around the Government’s bid to control the Committee of Selection, which will play a vital role in getting Brexit-related legislation through the House.

More widely, it means that Government whips will never have a truly accurate count of Opposition MPs ahead of any given vote, so they will forever fear an ambush on even the most pedestrian issue. It sets a dangerous precedent for the Lords, too, as the Government’s minority is even more stark there – and if Peers can claim that a Bill has only garnered marginal support in the Commons, they will be all the more inclined to knock it down in the Upper House.

Reshuffle marks turning point for May

As the next Cabinet reshuffle approaches, Theresa May will enjoy a rare boost in her political authority (any PM’s power is ultimately based on patronage). Changes could also be used to ‘blood’ prospective Conservative leaders who do not yet have ministerial experience – just as Michael Howard brought on David Cameron and George Osborne before he stood down – and, with a cynical eye, could be used to remove the more able backbenchers from scrutinising Select Committees.

But once the reshuffle has happened, resentment among overlooked MPs will rise and backbench management will become harder. Conservative MPs will also become more aligned with their activists in terms of being open to a ‘generational change’ when colleagues from their own intake fail to get the nod, which could create a lot of “old men in a hurry” in the Cabinet.

(Fixed) term-time

Just as children return to school, the Government has effectively confirmed it is dropping plans to scrap the Fixed Term Parliament Act. On Tuesday, Chris Skidmore explained that a committee will “if appropriate, make recommendations for its repeal or amendment” sometime in or after 2020. Given the Conservatives’ lack of electoral self-confidence and the Government’s slim working majority, it’s easy to see the appeal of keeping the Act on the books.

Guns and butter

Leaked documents and low politics kept the new ship building strategy off front pages today, but the Government’s newly published paper should get more attention for at least two reasons.

The first is (inevitably) Brexit-related, in that defence spending is one of the few areas where the Government can skip past EU state aid rules and ‘buy British’. At the same time, our contribution to defence and security (and the relatively large amount of cash we put into it) is a strong card in the EU negotiations, so flexing these procurement muscles does the UK no harm.

The second reason the paper is important is that it sets a precedent for how HMG buys very large projects. A maximum price of £250m per ship is set for the newly commissioned frigates, with yards asked to build the best ship they can for the money. As HMG looks around for new ways to avoid price overruns on other big spends, suppliers could soon find themselves on the receiving end of a similar approach.

Clever Corbyn on Brexit

People who really follow Labour’s twists and turns over Brexit may be frustrated at that party’s lack of clarity on the biggest issue of the day, but Corbyn is playing to a different audience – the general public.

Sir Keir Starmer’s much vaunted ambition to stay in the single market and ‘a’ customs union after March 2019 is close enough to the Government’s goals for a transition deal that Labour could effectively neutralise the issue in a snap General Election campaign, in the same way that New Labour defused fears about its tax and spend plans in 1997 by promising to mirror the Conservatives’ policies for at least two years.

If the Conservatives are to succeed at the polls next time round, they will need to communicate a distinct – and distinctly better – offer than Labour on Brexit, which is proving hard to do.


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