What we know (and what we don’t) after the 2019 election

It’s been just under a month since the December 2019 general election, and much of the Christmas break has been spent analysing what went right and wrong for the parties involved. Now that the new year is firmly upon us, many charities will be looking ahead to what this all means for their organisations. We now we have a clear result and the prospect of stable government for five years, so we’ve had a look at the top takeaways for charities, as well as thinking about what we don’t yet know.

Brexit will get ‘done’

The most obvious consequence of the election outcome is that the UK is leaving the EU on 31 January and moving into a transition period. We’re also moving towards less alignment with the EU so that we can do trade deals with other countries.

The big question for next year is how quickly a deal with the EU can be done, and what that deal will look like. Given the political importance that has been attached to December 2020, it seems unlikely that the government will seek to extend the transition period beyond that date, and the plan to enshrine this in law through the EU withdrawal agreement bill would appear to confirm that.

What is less clear is what will, and what can, be agreed between now and December, and where that will leave charities and others on 1 January 2021, and how well prepared they will be for those circumstances.

There will be a wider reshuffle in February

Immediately following the election there was a limited reshuffle, which included elevating Nicky Morgan to the House of Lords to retain her in the role of culture secretary. This is expected to be followed by much more wide-ranging changes after we leave the EU at the end of January.

There are lots of new MPs to engage with

Due to a significant amount of retirements, defections to other parties and the number of seats lost by Labour, there are over 100 new MPs in the new parliament, so it will be worth spending time to find out what their interests might be.

PoliticsHome has published short profiles of all of the new MPs, while both Third Sector and Civil Society have looked at who might be particularly interested in charity issues.

There will be a new leader of the Labour party

After the party’s disastrous election result, Jeremy Corbyn announced he would step down. Rebecca Long-Bailey looks set to be the continuity candidate of the current leadership, while Keir Starmer is emerging as the main challenger. It’s important to note however, that the contest is not likely to have major economic policy implications, with all of the plausible contenders broadly supportive of Labour’s shift to the left since 2015, but rather what the approach of the leadership should be in winning back lost voters.

It’s also worth noting that the Liberal Democrats will also elect a new leader in the next few months. Ed Davey and Layla Moran are early favourites to replace Jo Swinson.

There will be more soul-searching about ‘traditional’ Labour voters and towns

There will be continued focus on voters in the seats lost by Labour: largely towns and rural areas in the north of England and Wales, thought to be crucial in the last two elections, and also the EU referendum. The Conservatives will also be focusing on those voters, having won a majority on the back of constituencies which have never previously elected a Conservative MP. There might then be an opportunity for charities to influence in this area – NCVO for example, will be thinking about the implications for the UK shared prosperity fund and the potential for a community wealth Fund.

What will the expected machinery of government changes mean for charities?

While we can be fairly confident that there will be some shifting of departments, it’s hard to know what that will mean across the board. Over the Christmas period it was suggested that Department for International Development (DFID) could be merged into the Foreign Office, to make sure aid is more focused on the UK’s national interest. This is a proposal long-favoured by a number of commentators on the right, and opposed by charities working in international development. Although more recent press report suggest that machinery of government changes could be more limited than first expected.

There has understandably been more limited conjecture about what this will mean for charity policy and the Office for Civil Society (OCS), after the move from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2016. There have been suggestions that DCMS will be broken up, and it’s unclear where OCS would end up in such a scenario. This is something we have been keeping a close eye on, more on this soon.

What will all this mean for the government’s spending plans?

The Conservative manifesto was relatively modest, but the wider mood music of statements claiming that austerity is over, and the need to support MPs winning in what had been considered safe Labour seats, mean that there is likely to be pressure to spend more money when the chancellor makes his budget statement on 11 March. Charities who feel their area is underfunded should make that case robustly.

While we know that health and education are likely to be prioritised, one of the key questions for most charities will be what happens to local government funding. While the Conservatives have probably benefited politically from localising some of the cuts since 2010, a growing crisis in local government could be a serious threat, and they and their new MPs may feel that there is a pressing need to act.

What’s next

While we now have a better idea of the shape of the political year, with leadership contests shaping up and a budget in early March, there is still much unknown. Without doubt, politics will continue to be interesting in 2020.

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Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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