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The Road to Election: The Key Themes in UK Politics in 2023January 20, 2023

Written by Luke Warren, Senior Account Executive, Corporate & Public Affairs, UK

2022 has been marked as one of the most turbulent years ever in British politics. Whilst the appointment of Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister eased the recent political drama, the Conservatives still face significant challenges that threaten their electoral prospects. With one last full year expected before a general election, what will 2023 bring for UK politics?

Resolve the strikes

Rishi Sunak’s premiership has thus far been defined by various industrial strikes that have paralysed the country. Despite public support for most strikes, including those by nurses and ambulance workers, the Government has prepared legislation to clamp down on strikes by setting out minimum service requirements, including for the NHS, train services and education. The Government finds itself in the unenviable position of either refusing to engage with unions, threatening to spur on more strikes and bolster the Labour’s attack lines, or resolve the strikes and thereby potentially threaten internal division within the Conservative Party over public finances.

Unify the Conservative Party

The Prime Minister has started the year in a weak position, with the Conservative Party massively divided, and numerous scandals having tarnished the Party’s reputation. Several factions within the Party remain disaffected with Sunak, having either been fervent supporters of Johnson or Truss, now seek to inflict a certain policy stance from the backbenches.

The Prime Minister will need to focus on unifying his party behind his leadership and prevent further scandals from rocking the party. The immediate suspension of Andrew Bridgen MP from the Party indicates just how seriously Number 10 is taking this issue. Given the disunity within the party, apparent in the rebellion over housebuilding targets, the Prime Minister will have to rule by consent rather than decree, making U-turns on policy, and compromises with backbenchers the likely defining feature of Sunak’s governance in 2023.

Repair the Conservative’s reputation for safeguarding the economy

Despite good intentions, Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng effectively destroyed the Conservative’s reputation for protecting the economy. The job of restoring this reputation now falls upon Sunak and his Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt MP, who have already outlined a programme of prudent spending cuts and tax increases to restore public finances.

Ultimately, the economic conditions of 2023 will provide a litmus test as to how well the Conservatives will do in an anticipated General Election. The local elections in May this year will be the first major electoral test for Sunak and the fact that the Conservatives have begun campaigning 110 days before polling day proves just how seriously the party is taking any prospect of electoral defeat.

Should the economic crisis continue, inflation continue to remain at record levels and the high cost of living rage on, Sunak will face a distrusting public when they head to the polls. Placing economic responsibility at the heart of the Government will be a central tenet of Sunak’s ambitions for 2023.

Labour will need to present itself as the Government-in-waiting

Despite being 20 points ahead in the polls, Sir Keir’s Labour Party still faces an upward battle of demonstrating itself as a viable option for Government. Under Sir Keir’s leadership, the Labour Party has effectively detoxified itself from the Corbyn years, transforming itself into a far more business-friendly party.

However, Starmer still faces a challenge of having to sell himself as a future Prime Minister, having to prove that not only is he a better than the Conservatives, but also a viable candidate for high office. The Labour Party is likely to ramp up its campaigning this year, spending considerable time and resources building relationships with businesses, and building its image as a contender for Government. Whilst its lead in the polls can largely be attributed to the fallout of Truss’s premiership, the Labour Party will need to effectively build a policy platform that can be campaigned on should they wish to capitalise on their fortunes, rather than simply relying on rhetoric.

With less than two full years until a next General Election, 2023 will be the foundation upon which both the Conservatives and Labour Party prepare their campaigns. Whilst the Labour Party will certainly be entering 2023 with renewed optimism, and the Government tackling crises in the economy, attempting to resolve strikes and dealing with the immigration crisis, the next General Election looks to be Labour’s to lose. However, a year is a long time in politics, and all could change by 2024.