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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.

Parliament acting, but no Parliament Act

The Government’s intention to extend this session of Parliament to two years (rather than the usual one) is partly designed to help see through the Brexit process. It also takes one tool out of the Government’s kitbag – to use the Parliament Act, whereby the Commons overrules opposition from the Lords, a Bill needs to be presented in two different sessions with at least one year in between each attempt.


Ironically, Brexit is encouraging EU27 markets to look at deregulating some parts of their economies. Germany’s Volker Bouffier, vice chair of Merkel’s CDU, for example, is reviewing labour laws in a bid to encourage bankers to move there. We expect to see a more ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model in some sectors on the continent – though the absence of a British brake on statist intervention will be felt more keenly elsewhere. 

Lies, damn lies and polling

One of our team used to be a pollster - here’s a quick brief on why you really should ignore the polls this time around: first, front page figures are still using national samples – not detailed results from the seats that are actually in contention; second, there is more reliance on the ‘art’ of polling now than before (it has always been a balance of art vs science) with different companies just guessing likely turnout among key voter groups; and third, there’s evidence that voters are increasingly aware of the impact of polling on the political narrative, so they use it to send a message rather than describe how they’ll vote – think petitions rather than commitments. There are one or two honourable exceptions, but most polling companies will prove they’re lucky rather than good if they get close to the final result.

Herding cats

One consistent feature around the country is Conservative candidates’ new-found belief that they are less indebted to the PM than they originally thought. In addition, local pressures to ‘deliver’ Brexit and social care giving prospective MPs an early lesson in how to rebel effectively, Conservative Whips will have their work cut out.


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