Labour In Tray – “What’s Next?”

At 6.30am on Thursday 4th of July my 15 year old son met me on my stairs, he asked me why I was up so early (he is an early riser normally).  “Its Christmas morning for political geeks” was my reply, while dashing into the sitting room to see if John Curtis had enjoyed the glass of milk and biscuits I had left out for him (That’s how it works… right).  Then followed around 24 hours of excitement, snacks, furious whatsapping of candidate friends, exit poll chaos (SNP down to 10, Tories up to 12) and election count gossip.

The result – we have a new Government, a host of new MPs, and a new political landscape to contend with, with more smaller parties represented at Westminster than ever before in modern times.  The Lib Dems have made a comeback, the SNP diminished, pro Gaza parties gaining seats and of course Reform making waves. It is all change at Westminster and the country waits to see what it means for us on an individual – day to day basis.

Over the next couple of days the new MPs will be sworn in and cabinet members will get to grips with their departments.  There will be a Kings Speech mid July that will set the parliamentary agenda for the next year with what will no doubt be a raft of new Bills.

The Rwanda scheme has already been scrapped and Wes Streeting at Health has gone in with a tough message that our NHS is broken and we need to fix it.  With the large majority that Labour have there is plenty of scope to take radical decisions, how brave will our new Government be?

So what is in the in tray for ministers, particularly in relation to Scotland?

First has to be improving the relationship between the two countries.  What has been a fractious and tetchy relationship over the last couple of years has been difficult for both Governments to navigate, blame has been the name of the game rather than a sense of joint purpose.  Keir Starmer visit to the First Minister yesterday sets the tone for improvement but we will have to see exactly how that works in practice.  Remember we have an election in Scotland in just over 18 months, Labour will not make it easy for the SNP in the months to come.

We can hope that the spirit of friendship will last, but I fear it will quickly be taken over by political reality with one eye on Holyrood elections in 2026.

Labour has already said that the Free Ports will continue in Scotland but not be extended.  We remain to see what, if any, will be the replacement for Levelling Up funding, that brought a huge amount of investment directly to local areas of Scotland.  This funding was controversial as it bypassed the Scottish Government and was paid directly to local authorities.

Labours position on clarifying the Equality Act has been mixed during the election campaign, and the new Minister for women’s issues and equality has a hill to climb in clarifying it.  We are not sure if this was raised when the Prime Minister met with the First Minister but there will be widespread concern as to the approach on this issue and whether the Section 35 order on the GRR Bill in Scotland will be reviewed.

Assisted Suicide is another issue that the Prime Minister has said he is open to having a debate on and proponents of the practice will be anxious to push this, possibly through a prominent Private Members Bill in the new session.

Many of the more controversial items are devolved to the Scottish Parliament so policies on prisons, the NHS and education won’t have a great deal of impact in Scotland. Apart from the removal of VAT exemption on private school fees that will cover Scotland.

But it will give some indication as to the direction of travel for Scottish Labour in the run up to 2026.  There have been divergence in policy stances, most notably on the removal of the 2 child tax limit, with Scottish Labour calling for its immediate abolition but our new Prime Minister taking a much more fiscally cautious approach.

Housing is a key area that often gets sidelined on the national stage, but is heard time and again on a local one.  Politicians tread a fine line in their local areas of protecting local communities and vociferous campaigns against new developments, while recognising that more, new, affordable housing is desperately required.  In Scotland local councils have targets for new housing that they have to meet, often in the face of widespread local opposition.  It is an incredibly challenging policy area, with everyone agreed that they want more new housing, but few want it built in the field next to their house.

The first 100 days is a phrase that has been brought across the Atlantic by election gurus, but it is a powerful and poignant one.  Politics moves quickly in the UK, public opinion shifts on the head of a pin, but change takes a very long time.  How the Labour Government manage this will be their success or downfall.  They need to establish a strong policy message quickly, make some quick wins in the right direction and Ministers need to be seen to be getting to grips quickly with their briefs.

New MPs have to set up their offices and start replying to constituents pot holes, bins and issues from day one, as well as employ a staff, find their way round and work out where they can buy lunch.

The role of the smaller parties will be fascinating in the new Parliament.  I don’t think we have had a time in modern days when we have had so many parties represented, including independents.  Greens, Reform, Workers Party will all be strong voices on certain issues, likely to change the way that they vote regularly.  With such a large Government majority they don’t hold the balance of power but it will be fascinating to see how, and whether, they have a voice.

So as Christians what is our response.  We should all write to our winning MP and thank them for standing, for putting their heads above the parapet, to tell them that we are praying for them and that we would love to meet them at some point to discuss our concerns locally.  We should also write to any losing MPs and say exactly the same thing!

We need to pray for our new Government as they get to grips with their new offices.  This is a time of change and it can be scary for many, although many also feel optimistic.  How do we harness this sense of optimism to call for a better politics, a better debate and a better morality among our politicians?

We need to earn the right to speak with a massive swathe of new MPs.  In my 30 years of lobbying politicians one thing I have learnt is that they will listen to you more if you have proven to be a solid friend.  Not someone who is only in touch when you want to complain about something, but someone who will write and say – well done, thank you.

So as our new MPs all make their way to Westminster, reach out, say thank you, tell them you will pray for them and encourage them in their new role.