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The Road to the General ElectionApril 25, 2023

Welcome back to Road to the General Election, the regular political insight newsletter from BCW London’s Corporate and Public Affairs team. This week, we are placing a spotlight on the Conservative Party.

As a team consisting of specialists from both the Conservative and Labour parties, BCW is expertly placed to help you navigate the lead-up to the next general election. To find out more about how we can support your business, please contact our Head of Public Affairs Simon Richards: [email protected]

Leading The Way

Meet the Candidates: Why Businesses Should Take Note of the Current Key Moment for Tory Parliamentary Selections
By Georgie Callé, Associate Director at BCW London

Last week saw the Conservative Party open applications for the first significant tranche of constituencies ahead of the next General Election, predicted for autumn 2024. Odd timing, some may think, as candidates and activists across the country are waist deep in local election campaigning.

Yet this is a critical stage as Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) turns minds to the main prize: Securing a historic fifth election victory. The Conservatives see strength in introducing new faces to constituents early, recognising some of the biggest results in recent years have been won not just by a national swing but by the profile of individual candidates. This is especially the case in trickier, marginal seats where the Conservatives will need all the advantages they can muster in the current political environment.

Getting candidates in place now not only provides a longer time for constituents to get to know them, it also signals the start of the long campaign and gives members a figurehead. At a time when membership morale is muted, having someone rally the troops locally will mean more people get out and about in critical areas.

For approved candidates, the prospect of the green benches looms large, especially given that Conservatives are struggling to increase the number of people on the approved list. Anecdotally, there’s currently around 400-500 candidates on the Party’s approved list, which would normally number close to a thousand. This is partly due to a renewed vigour of the approval process and partly reflective of the level of enthusiasm to be a Conservative MP but means those on the list are more likely to end up on the ballot paper than in previous years.

All this to say, by October there will be at least 100 new Conservative Parliamentary candidates. Come the election, some will win, some will lose, but all represent how the Conservative Party wishes to present itself for the future. For businesses, building relationships with candidates and finding those with an interest in your policy agenda right now can be fruitful. Candidates will be seeking to carve a reputation and use their newfound platform as a candidate to network and engage with senior decision makers in the party, who will have an important hand in writing the election manifesto.

State of the Polls

Data taken from Politico’s poll of polls for the United Kingdom (14th April)

LAB - 44%
CON – 29%
LIB DEM – 10%
SNP – 3%

Some projections predict a large parliamentary majority for Labour. The New Statesman’s ‘State of the Nation’ modelling puts Labour on 373 seats, with 184 seats for the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats are expected to win 20 seats, while the range of other parties in Parliament would collectively win 73 seats.

Many Conservatives are hoping that undecided voters can save their party from a hard-hitting electoral defeat by Labour. New polling released by YouGov and The Times reveals that nearly a third of voters still do not know how they would vote in a general election, or would not vote at all.

Although 67% percent of these undecided voters are “not sure” who would make the better Prime Minister between the incumbent Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer, 21% lean towards Sunak, while only 8% prefer Labour’s Starmer – giving some Tories a sense that all is still to play for.

In Case You Missed It

Just as UK parliamentarians were leaving Westminster for Easter, Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch confirmed in the early hours of Friday 31st March that the UK would become the first European country to enter the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), subject to the ratification processes.

As a reminder, CPTPP is a free trade agreement covering 11 countries across the Indo-Pacific region, with signatories including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The UK government considers the region strategically important as a zone for future growth, particularly post-Brexit. Ninety-nine percent of UK goods exported to the bloc will now be eligible for zero tariffs. Yet, given that the UK has existing Free Trade Agreements with each country in the bloc, except for Brunei and Malaysia, the government’s impact assessment on joining CPTPP outlines that the deal will only bring a meagre 0.08% economic boost to the UK.

What’s the big deal then? The real value is symbolic, both for government and industries that have interests in both the UK and wider Asian CPTPP countries. It crystallises the longer-term strategic thinking of the UK’s foreign policy. Now outside the EU, informed by the “Indo-Pacific Tilt”, and seeking out soft power opportunities beyond the shores of Europe, the UK will hope to use its membership to boost global and geopolitical influence as well as shape future trade standards and infrastructure in the world’s most populous continent.

The strong digital and tech angle to the deal, too, shows the prioritisation of this sector. While recognising limited immediate benefits, trade body Tech UK has argued that the move will give the UK added clout to promote its own governance vision for future digital trade policy inside the bloc.

Ultimately then, despite the UK’s accession being a landmark moment, many of these benefits will be a slow burn but may reveal themselves in years to come. And though the party politics of international trade remains highly charged by the spectre of Brexit and the UK’s evolving place in the world, the government is trying hard to convey an important message to businesses: there’s an entire world out there.

Thank you for reading, we’ll see you soon.

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