Editors Pick

Why you need to have a happy workforce

8th July 2024

Opinion: Are General Elections in the UK still fit for purpose?

Finito World


‘Laugh about it/shout about it/when you’ve got to choose/anyway you look at this you lose.’ So sang Simon and Garfunkel in their song ‘Mrs Robinson’, and judging by the sheer number of people who voted for smaller parties and independents in the July 2024 election, it would seem many feel the same.

This isn’t about the result of the election, which was the largest display of collective schadenfreude ever aimed at a UK government, but about process. When Sir Keir Starmer arrived on the steps of 10 Downing Street to announce that the country had voted for change, most people in the country inwardly assented. Indeed many Conservatives had been privately wanting their leadership to change tack for years.

But then the question followed: what kind of change? Even when Starmer announced at the end of that first address to the nation as Prime Minister that he was heading indoors to get to work there was still a good deal of doubt as to what precise work he might be referring to.

Would he empty the prisons as his new advisor James Timpson wanted him to? And how would his new Justice Secretary Shabana Mahmood feel about, having said rather different things? Would Starmer raise taxes? And if so, which ones? And to do what?

Labour’s campaign had been a masterclass in campaigning according to Napoleon’s dictum of never interrupting your opponent while they’re making a mistake.


The format of our elections had meant that by and large he hadn’t had to elaborate on his plans. This isn’t good for the electorate – and it’s not ideal for the Labour Party itself which will eventually disappoint partly because people have been projecting their hopes at this vagueness. “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views,” as President Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope.

At one point in his speech, Starmer said he would be ‘unburdened by doctrine’. This was good to hear, since we are crying out for sensible politics – but it’s difficult to think of a more ideological policy than the end to the VAT exemption for private schools.

Starmer has said some promising things, but mainly people like the way he has said them, since that’s mostly what they have had to go on. At the tail end of 2024, positions will need to be carved out and crises will need to be responded to. Shakespeare’s Hamlet found out that there is nothing quite like events for forcing you into a display of your character which will smoke out your beliefs whether you like it or not.

When it comes to employability, the subject of this magazine, the matter hardly came up throughout the six-week campaign – except tangentially in that there was talk of an increase in green jobs due to decarbonisation of the economy. Labour also stated that a ‘back to work plan’ would aim to increase the employment rate from 75 per cent to 80 per cent.

The new Department for Work and Pensions secretary Liz Kendall spoke during her 2015 leadership campaign of her commitment to the living wage, and expressed support for worker representation on company boards – which Theresa May also at one time espoused. None of this is much to go on.

In fact, the media must take a larger share of the blame for our lack of knowledge about the nature of the new government. The TV debates were once again ludicrous with the whole of the taxation or healthcare system having to be explained in 45 seconds. The manifesto coverage was slender, as were the manifestos themselves.

The typical response from the media is that they must whittle the issues down in order to cater to voters’ dwindling attention spans. But what if there is a far greater hunger for detail than they think? One often hears its chief reporters speculating about how a certain matter is ‘only for people in the Westminster bubble’. The depth of emotion around politics at each election cycle makes on think that at 45 seconds into an explanation around tax, the people may not be tuning out – they may just be tuning in. To paraphrase Starmer, it’s time for a change.

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