Election Special: The Mornings After the Night Before

As the General Election campaign moves into its closing stages, observers could be forgiven for stifling a yawn. After their most accident-prone campaign in living memory, the Tories are now circling the electoral plughole and will probably be relieved when it’s all over. Labour are on the home straight with success all but inevitable, a win of historic proportions on the cards, but their campaign too has been fairly muted, even dull, missing much sense of the hope and optimism that accompanied their victory in 1997. It doesn’t matter too much – a win’s a win – and in fact, modest expectations will probably work to their advantage once they have taken their places on the Government benches in the House of Commons.

In Scotland, John Swinney will be hoping that epic Tory losses will divert attention away from those of the SNP, who will find it hard to withstand the Labour challenge in urban central Scotland. Labour only needs to nose ahead in these marginal sets to win handsomely, and most polls suggest they will make significant gains at the SNP’s expense. Swinney will, however, be hoping to find some solace in a stronger performance in rural Scotland, particularly in the SNP-Tory marginals. If the SNP is able to hold on there, and maybe even take a seat or two off the Tories, they will have Douglas Ross to thank for it as much as Nigel Farage’s Reform UK. That would offer the SNP some consolation on what is anticipated to be a difficult night, and would help Swinney stabilise his party as the battle for the 2026 Holyrood elections begins in earnest.

As the curtain comes down on a UK election campaign that has been characterised by an unusual degree of domestic focus and political insularity, it’s perhaps worth remembering that other consequential electoral contests are underway elsewhere, notably in the USA and France, both of which have implications for the UK, and that the new UK Government will take up its responsibilities in a fraught geopolitical context, overshadowed by the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. After the political myopia of the last few weeks, a new Labour government will need to raise its sights and quickly get to grips with foreign policy challenges as a matter of priority.


So, what’s next?

July 5 – Sir Keir Starmer will be invited to Buckingham Palace, where King Charles III will officially ask him to form the next government as his Prime Minister. He will then move into Downing Street and is expected to make a brief speech to the nation – rain notwithstanding – outside the famous black door of Number 10.

July 6-7 – Starmer will make his senior Cabinet appointments over the weekend, with more junior roles following afterwards.

Despite finally having a raft of Scottish MPs from which to choose a Secretary of State for Scotland, Starmer will stick with long-serving/suffering Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, who will be given a war-chest of levelling-up funding to target spending directly into Scotland ahead of Holyrood elections in 2026. Most of the Labour Party’s existing shadow cabinet is also expected to stay in post, but questions have been raised over whether David Lammy – largely absent from the campaign trail – will remain as Foreign Secretary, while former Cabinet minister Douglas Alexander will also be expecting a high-profile role, possibly at a reconstituted Department for International Development. Other unconventional appointments that have been mooted include Starmer announcing Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton as his Ambassador to the United States.

Whoever he appoints, Starmer will be determined to get it right given he intends to keep ministers in post for the full, five-year term in a bid to bring stability to the government.

July 8 onwards – Starmer’s back-room team will now be moving into the Policy Unit at Number Ten. Some senior figures – such as Chief of Staff Sue Gray and Communications Director Matthew Doyle – are expected to keep their positions, but the role of others is unclear. Starmer will need to find a place for his long-standing consigliere Morgan McSweeney, while more junior policy advisors in the Labour Party have yet to be told if they will be joining their leader in Downing Street amid rumours of an influx of (semi) external experts from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. Meanwhile, changes are also likely at the other end of the spectrum as the Labour Party seeks to appoint dozens of new peers to try and overcome the Conservative Party’s majority in the second chamber.

July 9 – Starmer himself will have to leave such bedding-in work to others, however, as he almost immediately heads to Washington DC with his Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary to mark the 75th anniversary of NATO. A bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden is likely but – with a tight US Presidential election in November and even the possibility of a change of Democratic candidate before then – Starmer will have to tread carefully during a visit that will be a very early test of his diplomatic skill.

July 14 – Starmer will jet off again, this time to Berlin – but only in the (seemingly very unlikely) event that England reach the finals of the 2024 Euros.

July 17 or July 18 – Starmer was keen to cancel the UK Parliament’s recess entirely in an attempt to hit the ground running but has relented amid a backlash from exhausted candidates and staff. Parliament will now sit from July 9 to July 31, before resuming on September 2.

The key moment during that early period will be the King’s Speech on July 17 or 18 where the Labour government will set out its legislative agenda for the coming parliamentary term. This will give an early indication of how Starmer intends to govern and could add some meat to the ideological bones provided in the Labour Party’s manifesto. Announcements on other key Labour pledges, including housebuilding, are also expected before the new intake of MPs repair to their Tuscan villas for August.

Mid-September – The last time there was a change of government, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne (in)famously left a note to his successor stating: “I’m afraid there is no money”. While outgoing Conservative Party ministers are unlikely to be so politically generous this time, we can nevertheless expect new Labour Party ministers to quickly, loudly, and publicly bemoan the state in which the Conservative Party has left the government’s finances. All this is about setting the narrative for the most crucial date of the new parliament in mid-September, when the first-ever female Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves, is expected to deliver her budget.

Eilidh Whiteford

Senior Advisor

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