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Nothing has changed, nothing has changed!

Nothing has changed, nothing has changed!

🕔14.Jun 2017

Oh yes it has. Those words, used when Theresa May was performing her half U-turn on social care policy, seemed to characterise the PM’s attitude on returning to Number 10 on Friday afternoon. Kevin Johnson suggests everything has changed and with it new opportunities will emerge. 

It was not a good look.

It was as if the election had hardly ever happened. An election she wanted to boost her parliamentary majority, but ended up making her head of a minority Government.

Her lack of mea culpa on social care was in evidence again on Friday. Nothing to see here. Business as usual. Move along.

It seems part of a character makeup that helped turn a 20% poll lead into less than 3% difference over Labour in the share of the vote.

READ: May’s gamble backfires.

Her former director of communications, Katie Perrior, who quit as the snap poll was called, said there were many mistakes including a strategy which based a highly personal campaign around a shy person, who doesn’t like media interviews and shows little empathy.

The PM’s performance at Monday night’s 1922 Committee and a brief Despatch Box appearance yesterday point to some contrition and sense of the moment.

There are many theories as to why people voted how they did – and in such numbers – and why that wasn’t picked up by the majority of pollsters and pundits.

READ: Never mind the results, who won the battle of the polls?

Anti-austerity (including policies on social care, winter fuel allowances, public sector pay and student tuition), Brexit, security, leadership and youth engagement are among the key themes. But frankly, no one yet can paint that picture with full authority.

The response of many business organisations is to call for certainty and stability.

Whilst understandable, this is the price of living in a democracy. It’s messy. Businesses might find jurisdictions offering more certainty also provide less commercial opportunities and entrepreneurial dynamism.

More to the point, in some ways this is going to be a good Parliament for business.

Given the lack of majority and the political landscape, there will be more scope to lobby (phew, Ed.).

It’s said that Mrs May has no real feel for business and had removed a number of channels between Number 10 and the private sector. That seems set to change, given the new political environment as well as the enormous challenge of Brexit.

It would also appear that Brexit might be moving toward a ‘softer’ or more ‘open’ version, which will please many in the business community whose main concern is access to global talent as well as barriers to trade.

The loss of joint chief of staffs Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill is a blow to Mrs May.

Mr Timothy was sometimes known as the PM’s political brain and the root of her from of liberal conservatism. Whilst the departure of this Chamberlain fan is partly due to a rushed manifesto process which excluded the Cabinet and party, his ‘red Tory’ thinking will be missed as the PM vows to put social change at the top of her agenda.

The shy Mrs May is going to have to reach out. The appointments of Damian Green (now effectively Deputy PM) and Gavin Barwell (deposed MP and now Chief of Staff) will help with that.

The Prime Minister’s communication and engagement skills are going to have to improve dramatically.

This Parliament, as long as it lasts, will provide good opportunities for the Opposition and backbenchers – as well as the DUP – to pursue their interests. Gavin Williamson, who remains Chief Whip, will have his work cut out.

We will explore the prospects for devolution in a future post. But with Nick Timothy gone and former Number 10 Special Adviser on industrial strategy and devolution Nick O’Brien having successfully secured a Commons seat (Harborugh), Birmingham’s best links in the Number 10 operation have disappeared.

But Karen Bradley has been confirmed in office as Culture Secretary, which will please those leading the region’s bid to house Channel 4. She is seen to have been the figure, backed by Number 10, who pressed the Corporation’s Board on re-location out of London and with whom Andy Street has a good relationship.

For Birmingham and for business, the old adage ‘don’t waste a crisis’ seems fitting.

READ: Labour strong in Birmingham, but unstable times for devolution.

Everything has changed.

Let’s make the most of this unexpected and uncertain state of affairs.

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