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What the General Election result means for Birmingham

What the General Election result means for Birmingham

🕔11.May 2015

It was not so much the “Sun What Won It”, but Crosby, Cameron and Osborne. Message discipline (but let’s hope they’ve now rested #longtermeconomicplan to the campaign archive); the fear of Scots Nats “propping up” a minority Labour Government; a brutal ground war against their hitherto partners in Government; greater perceived economic competence (and Labour’s inability or even attempt to counter the ‘crashed economy’ narrative) and, even with a performance from Ed Miliband which confounded expectations, a stronger leader all led to an almost 100 seat difference between the main parties.

PM Cameron starts his second term of government with significant political authority (even with a majority of just 12); Osborne has now fully recovered from the ‘omnishambles’ budget with a reputation as the arch political strategist and Crosby, much criticised for a dull campaign, demonstrated that victory, rather than the way you play, is what matters. He even merited a congratulatory tweet from his arch rival, Alastair Campbell.

With the benefit of hindsight: ‘simples’. Why weren’t we all predicting it, rather than literally dropping our jaws as the exit poll was revealed at 10.00pm on Thursday night? Why did the media spend so much time speculating about the form and shape of a minority/confidence and supply/coalition arrangement? Never mind the pollsters (who on the ‘final call’ poll of polls were largely within the margin of error and whose job is to reflect what a representative sample tell them, not predict what they actually do in the polling booth) we should be chastising the journos and commentators who laughed at anyone who suggested they were seeking a majority and hadn’t given up on it.

With the election behind us and a ‘stable’ government in place, at least for now, what does this mean for Greater Birmingham?

Well, at a ‘global’ level the two big issues that will dominate Government are unions. No, not those unions (although they’re in for a rough ride too). The European Union and the Acts of Union which bind Scotland and England together. These might not seem city or regional issues, but the lead up to and then the result of the EU referendum are going to loom large over us for the next two years. Meanwhile, the SNP landslide is only going to re-double the sense that our constitutional framework and heavy centralisation in Whitehall really do have to change. Osborne’s famed Northern Powerhouse tripped quickly off the lips of both the Prime Minister and Chancellor in their first remarks on Friday.

For anyone in Birmingham’s Council House hoping for something other than a majority Conservative government with slightly eased austerity and a different calculus for local government finance settlements, that result in Nuneaton at around 2.00am (the equivalent moment to when Basildon and our own Edgbaston signalled the result in previous elections) will have put paid to any dreaming. The continuing requirement for a referendum to approve increases to Council Tax of over 2% will effectively cut off using that tax to generate more revenues.

Meanwhile, any similar thoughts about less pressure on implementing the Kerslake recommendations in full – and the wider Future Council plan – will have gone up in smoke in the early hours of Friday. As I write, we don’t yet know who will be installed as Communities Secretary (my bet is Greg Clark to include his cities brief working closely with First Secretary Osborne) but whoever it is, I find it almost impossible to believe Birmingham City Council will be cut any slack.

It’s not all bad for Labour. Jess Phillips secured a stunning victory over John Hemming in Yardley and Labour won two additional seats at Council. That should put a bit of a spring in Sir Albert Bore’s step and further protect him from the annual ritual that is the leadership challenge of John Clancy, which my colleague Paul Dale reports on this morning. Paul also delves deeper into the Council and Parliamentary results for the party in Birmingham which make for much better reading than most of what Labour staff in Brewer’s Green will be pouring over in the coming weeks.

As we’ve known for too long, the only game in town is forming a Combined Authority with the kind of governance arrangements that gives Government confidence and reflects functional economic geography. If we want the more extensive version of any deals and devolution on offer, Osborne and co will first insist upon an elected mayor.

In Solihull, Tory Julian Knight brought tears to the eyes of former Solihull MP Lorely Burt, making her one of the images of the night. What effect his opposition to a Combined Authority will have on Solihull Council, which saw the Conservatives strengthen their grip on control at Thursday’s election, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, East Staffordshire and North Warwickshire – both potentially part of a Combined Authority – turned blue on Thursday.

Beyond the domain of local government, it is worth highlighting some of the key features of the Tory Manifesto as much was lost in the fog of who was going to go into bed with whom. They include commitments on deficit reduction; taxes and the minimum wage; apprenticeships; immigration and welfare reform; a business rates review; new trade union laws and scrapping the Human Rights Act. Other measures include:

  • continuation of banking reforms
  • an Enterprise Bill to cut red tape for small firms
  • companies with more than 250 employees will be required to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees
  • more Free Schools
  • extension to tax-free and free childcare provision
  • the flagship housing policy of a right to buy for Housing Association tenants
  • health policy promises led by a commitment to an extra £8bn by 2020 as requested by the NHS Chief Executive; extending GP provision to the weekend and further integration of health and social care systems
  • HS2 – and the remaining legislative basis for it – are probably on stronger ground than if Ed Balls was occupying Number 11, although the SNP will doubtless try and reverse the build direction
  • Police and Crime Commissioners are here to stay, possibly with expanded roles.

If you would like more details on the agenda for the Parliament, how it may affect you and the make up of Government, contact Kevin Johnson at RJF Public Affairs. We provide detailed policy analysis, Board briefings and consultancy.

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