Businesses should study UK election manifestos closely

Out-Law Analysis | 08 Nov 2019 | 4:04 pm | 2 min. read

While it would be understandable to view next month's UK general election almost entirely through a Brexit lens, elections are rarely defined by a single issue.

Brexit will provide the frame within which the December election will play out. But amid the Leave/Remain cacophony and the distraction of political soap opera, we shouldn't lose sign of the fact that whoever gains the keys to No 10 Downing Street will be elected to steer the direction of a huge swathe of domestic policy - much of which will be of direct and significant impact to business.

October was long-anticipated to be a tumultuous and decisive month in the Brexit process. In the end, while tumult was in abundance, decision was less so.

Attempting a measured assessment of precisely what is happening right now, and what impact this may have on the future fabric of our politics, democracy, society and business would be as much a fool's errand as attempting to 'call' next month's election result. But while we cannot confidently predict the shape of our politics in the next year, let alone long term, what can businesses do to stay on top of the current political risks?

Henderson Andrew

Andrew Henderson

Director of Public Policy

We will have a starter for ten when assessing the relative risks and opportunities that the domestic agendas of different political parties pose, in the form of their manifestos.

Notwithstanding recent events under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, and indeed the potential for a majority Conservative government to repeal that legislation, as things currently stand the election will return a parliament of MPs who will serve for five years, until 2024.

Consider how much has changed over the past five years. Then ponder the amount of domestic policy that the government we are about to elect will have the time to pursue. Understanding what is on the menu policy-wise, beyond Brexit, is therefore of vital importance.

Thankfully, we will have a starter for ten when assessing the relative risks and opportunities that the domestic agendas of different political parties pose, in the form of their manifestos which will be published over the coming weeks.

Of course, election manifestos do not provide an exhaustive guide to what a party will do once in office - especially in the event of a coalition or minority government, where policy 'horse trading' will take place to secure partner parties' votes. However, they will provide a valuable steer on parties' broad approach to issues and sectors and, in many instances, sufficiently granular proposals to inform an organisation's risk register.

Turning to Brexit, certainly the result of the election will colour the UK's relations with Europe. A Conservative majority government would almost certainly see Boris Johnson's withdrawal agreement pass the House of Commons, opening a new phase of the saga in the form of trade negotiations and, domestically, heightened disquiet from other nations and regions of the UK - not least Scotland, which may envy Northern Ireland's continued close proximity to the EU and demand a similar settlement.

A Labour win, or a hung parliament in which Jeremy Corbyn was able to form a government with the support of smaller parties, would increase the prospect of second referenda, on EU membership and, potentially, Scottish independence.

Outside of the Westminster 'bubble', party manifestos are rarely read cover-to-cover. This year, though, they should be - especially as most eyes will be focussed elsewhere.

Andrew Henderson is a public policy expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.