Just 33 days to go until Theresa’s big gamble plays out and already people are showing signs of election fatigue. Come June 8, the words ‘strong and stable’ will surely be conversational pariahs – unable to show their faces in polite discussion anywhere.
No matter where your affiliations lie, it is hard to fault the cold logic of snapping this election now. Take your pick – a once-in-a-political-lifetime poll lead, the absence of a seriously credible electoral force for the centre left, the all-too-enticing promise of a majority big enough to ignore the hard right, more power to your Brexit elbow – the list goes on.
And our PM will surely get what she wants. Almost certainly… but not definitely. And that’s the scary bit. To achieve stability the PM is playing with the fire of chronic instability.
First up, the Election itself has created a 2 month hole in the business of Government. No sooner will the result be in and the confetti swept away, before our new cohort of MPs will be toddling off on their summer holidays. The consequence of this is that most civil servants are now reconciling themselves to Ministerial sign offs and announcements pushed back to September-October at best. This slows down funding decisions and policy detail in areas of activity that impact people’s lives – from poisonous air quality to what kind of schools are on your doorstep. In turn this makes it harder for all those bits of public sector, and the businesses and charities who support them in a million different ways, to plan and budget. And all of this at a time when we’re already swamped by economic uncertainty and a national productivity challenge.
Then there’s the more obvious point of political unpredictability. Today’s local election results suggest we’re not likely to see a major upset in our expectations this time round – and if the French put a centrist in the Elysee Palace on Sunday, perhaps we can tell ourselves voting publics are back on the straight and narrow. But no campaign is risk free. And if the tide did somehow turn, the dire consequences of less rather than more stability helps no one at this point. Imagine an NHS told they need to dump Sustainability and Transformation Plans and go back to the drawing board. Health leaders are already wringing their hands at the prospect of four and half more weeks of candidates pledging to prevent local hospital closures at all costs – reconfiguration is hard enough without getting everyone all riled up before the business case is even made.
The question we should be asking is whether the prize is worth the gamble?
I’ll confess at first it was hard to see how the whole enterprise wasn’t simply self-serving. But early noises about manifesto content may yet prove me wrong. If this election process allows a moment of intellectual pause for Theresa’s “no-longer-nasty” Tory Party to gather its wits, its data and its political heart to produce a compelling and coherent policy programme for the next 5 years (that can somehow stand apart from everything Brexit) – perhaps the reward will have justified the risk.
On that basis, the May 8 launch of the Conservative manifesto cannot come soon enough. There’s only so many times you can watch as politicians do the verbal equivalent of Wile E Coyote running in mid-air, pedalling hard and fast with their lines-to-take but lacking the firm ground of policy substance or even promise.
Let’s hear more about how we can put greater security around those who are just about managing, more about how positive corporate behaviours can be championed and promoted, more about how we’re going to support the frail and elderly to live with dignity in old age. Let’s hope this gamble pays off.
Campbell McDonald is a Managing Director at Baxendale. Campbell works closely at a senior level with leaders of social organisations and public sector bodies.