A blog by Ranjit Blythe, Director of Communications and External Affairs (Interim) reflecting on what has changed politically since last Thursday.
The last week in politics has represented a historic shift in British politics. With the Conservatives taking 365 seats at the General Election – the largest number since 1987 – and Labour falling to a low not seen since 1935, the political makeup of the United Kingdom has fundamentally changed. Now the dust is settling, minsters are being appointed, the Queen’s Speech has been published, and Labour is starting to debate its future, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what has changed politically since last Thursday, and what this might mean for both Cadent and, more widely, the UK infrastructure sector.
It is easy to think that the election results were all about how many seats each party gained. Sure, it is historically important that the Conservatives exceeded 350 MPs, whilst Labour is hovering at around only 200. But it’s just as important to consider not just how many Conservative gains there were, but where those gains took place.
Gone is the dichotomy that the working classes vote Labour, whilst the middle classes vote Conservative. The overwhelming number of Conservative gains came in traditionally working class, northern and Midlands seats. Places like Rother Valley, the seat of the battle of Orgreave, Bolsover, the place which returned the formidable Dennis Skinner for over 40 years, and West Bromwich East, which until this month was represented by the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, are now all Tory. Rock solid Labour seats are now Conservative. Results which ten years ago would’ve been unthinkable now represent the political norm.
This political sea change represents both a challenge and an opportunity for everyone involved in the UK infrastructure sector. Many MPs which Cadent has worked positively with for a number of years have either stepped down or lost their seats. Our challenge is to build relationships with this new cohort of MPs, showing them what great work we are doing in communities up and down the UK to address fuel poverty, combat climate change and ensure our essential work causes minimal disruption.
I think, however, the real opportunity comes from the focus this new Government is likely to give to infrastructure. With a large majority and a draft withdrawal agreement agreed, Brexit is almost certain to take place on 31st January. Whilst discussions about the future trading relationship between the EU and UK will go on long after that date, the Government looks set to change focus on February, no more ‘Get Brexit Done’, but instead a focus on investment and prosperity.
This focus was clearly evident in the Queen’s Speech. With the announcement that the Government is to publish a National Infrastructure Strategy, outlining its commitment to a £100bn infrastructure investment, alongside the creation of a new Office for Environmental Protection and a re-commitment to investing in carbon capture, amongst other technologies, to reach Net Zero by 2050, this was a Queen’s Speech with a real focus on infrastructure and the environment.
This, with the chance it brings to talk about major innovations like Cadent’s work with biomethane, the HyNet plans for a Carbon Capture facility in the North West, and the work we are already doing to modernise our network and make it hydrogen ready, represents a major opportunity. Whatever we each think about the new Government, they have a clear majority and have made a commitment to major investment in infrastructure across our country. It is now incumbent upon us all to work cooperatively and constructively, to make sure that commitment is turned into reality – and that the opportunity of investment to build a whole systems approach to decarbonisation, investing in jobs and skills, and reaching the Net Zero target, is one we grab with both hands.