Without a doubt, 2020 already feels very different to the last three years when it comes to the policy making agenda. Indeed, different even to the years since 2010, when the UK stopped having governments with solid majorities. The events of the last ten years have been a roller coaster, where big political events and shocks dominated and the business of day to day Government was often stifled by these, plus of course the consequences of the economic downturn.
But an almost surreal calm has descended since the result of the General Election on December 12th. The hot air of strongly worded rhetoric seems to have largely gone and the huge drama of last autumn seems almost like ancient history.
I wonder how, in years to come, students of politics will view the period we have just navigated. Will long retired public affairs hacks look back wistfully on the twists, turns, calculations and uncertainties of that extraordinary period? Or will they just shudder and say ‘never again’?
I for one will not look back fondly on an era where each day was a crisis, as the Government tried to muster votes, where factions vied to gain victory for their passionately held positions, irrespective of the events and opinion outside Parliament. Neither will I miss the long periods where government departments were unwilling to commit to anything substantial as the lifeblood of public policy making was sucked dry by events in the Palace of Westminster. The sense of bewilderment in the country, as ordinary people and businesses alike looked with bemusement at the drama being acted out in a Parliament at war with itself.
But like a switch being flicked, the election of a Government with a solid majority has set the direction of travel on key issue of the day and halted Parliament’s drift towards irreparable reputational damage. With all the drama behind us, politics and commentators are starting to focus on a much wider range of upcoming issues, of which the details of the future relationship with the EU are only a part. It was notable that the Commons Stages of the EU Withdrawal Bill passed with barely a whisper outside the Westminster village. Though the Lords may still pass amendments which will require additional Commons debate and votes.
With the UK leaving the EU at the end of the month, attention is now turning to the much anticipated and likely extensive reshuffle of the Government. This will be observed with keen interest by business and it will signal the direction of travel the Government will want to take in the years ahead, much more clearly than promises and announcements during the general election campaign will have done.
But most importantly, 2020 will see a return to Government departments pursuing policies and strategies with a solid mandate. No longer crippled by ever-shifting Brexit calculations, we will likely see a whole new swathe of departmental strategies. Debate around these will offer many opportunities for businesses to engage Ministers and officials and present their case on a wide range of issues – with a greater expectation that engagement on these matters will be better than it has been for several years.
So a big welcome to 2020 – a year when we can look forward to Government processes starting to work properly again.