Laying the ground for the UK General Election

Peter Flack Lamb recaps the latest developments in UK politics and what they mean for CIPD engagement as we head into the next General Election 

In September, the CIPD published its proposals for improving work in the CIPD Manifesto for Good Work. Heading into the next UK General Election, we will be engaging with key decision-makers in the leading political parties, to draw support for policies set out in the manifesto and ensure our membership’s perspective is represented. To do that, we must be aware of the changing political scene. 

Following a busy conference season, November and December are often quieter months for parliamentary manoeuvring in UK politics. Christmas receptions increase, and parties prepare for the hard slog of campaigning during May elections. 

This year has been different. There have been changes at the top of the government and in the official opposition. There is tension around the topic of immigration and the tax cutting from the Autumn Statement may yet impact the polls. This will impact who the CIPD engages with on our key policy areas. 

Suella Braverman’s removal from the post of Home Secretary prompted an earlier than expected frontbench reshuffle, including several roles at the Department for Work and Pensions, where the CIPD often looks to engage. 

While Braverman’s comments since her removal have focused on disagreements with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over how to reduce levels of immigration to the UK, the dispute has been seen by many as her positioning herself for a future Conservative leadership bid. 

This means, despite new Home Secretary James Cleverly’s recent announcement of greater controls on legal migration, immigration looks set to be a flash point for the Conservatives in the lead up to the next election. Another MP seen to be angling for a leadership tilt is Robert Jenrick, former Minister of State for Immigration, who made it known he supported a higher salary requirement for skilled worker visas than the government ultimately announced.  

With poll ratings for the Conservative Party remaining consistently low, jockeying by MPs for a future leadership contest could overshadow any Conservative plans before the next election.  

This all adds to the pressure on the Prime Minister to demonstrate he can bring down headline immigration numbers. Immigration is already likely to be key to the Conservative campaign for the General Election, and the Labour Party are signalling it wants lower migrant numbers. The environment could stand in the way of the CIPD’s manifesto call that parties should “ensure the immigration system is flexible and can address critical skills shortages”. 

Further curbs on skilled migrants, particularly in lower paid sectors, will also add to the growing need to improve our skills system and have more measures that can grow labour market participation, with near term consequences for those who are looking to recruit into sectors with existing skills shortages like social care. This will also make our calls for reforms to the Apprenticeship Levy and better coordination of skills policy even more important. 

While this has been a challenging time for the government, it was also far from plain sailing for the opposition. The decision of the SNP to propose an amendment to the King’s Speech calling for a ceasefire in Gaza resulted in a split in the parliamentary party, with several shadow ministers forced to step down from their roles to vote with the SNP. 

This included roles relevant to the CIPD and to our members, such as the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities and the Shadow Minister for the New Deal for Working People – the latter of which still hasn’t been directly replaced at the time of writing. 

The wider calls for a ceasefire by leading Labour figures and groups outside of Westminster point to the fact that despite efforts to improve party discipline under Keir Starmer, there remains potential for significant divisions beneath the surface. 

For the CIPD, our efforts to engage Labour in policy discussions continue, building on our engagement at the recent party conferences. With the potential for a Labour Government, understanding and engaging with their proposed New Deal for Working People will be important for our members, as will understanding proposals for a new industrial strategy.  

Most recently, we submitted to the Labour party our review of business engagement led by Iain Anderson, which will be important to get right if it is to succeed with its mission-led approach to government and crystalise its proposed ‘partnership’ with business. 

We continue to have good links to the Conservative Government through our work on the Flexible Working Taskforce and DWP Over-50s Forum, and are looking to do more with the Department for Business and key public bodies in future. 

At this stage, most commentators consider it unlikely that there will be further significant reshuffles ahead of the General Election. While it could be called for any date up to 28 January 2025, most discussion currently centres on a date in May or around late October 2024. 

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