The Conservatives have delivered one of the most impressive mid-term election performances in living memory and Labour has experienced a devastating blow, leading to a crisis reshuffle. What does this mean for UK politics?
 
A new British politics?
This year’s elections suggest a re-alignment in British politics that will fuel a confident Conservative government in the coming years. Labour continues to lose touch with its historic working class base while Boris Johnson has won their backing in a manner unseen since Margaret Thatcher. This was most evident in the North East, reinforced by some stunning council results and the retention of the Tees Valley and West Midlands mayoralties. But we have to exercise some caution: local elections can swing wildly. The government should be careful of over-confidence.

However, it is said governments lose elections when they stop listening. In 2021 this applies to the Opposition. Labour has been held back by a government occupying its historic policy on issues such as tax and spending. Although Keir Starmer had some notable victories, the party appeals largely to voters in cities and on the far left. These groups often have different values to ‘blue collar’ workers. If it cannot bring this coalition back together or successfully redefine itself as New Labour managed to do two decades ago, it will remain locked out of power for the long term.

The Prime Minister was buoyed by hopes of economic recovery, vaccine rollout and public spending. But he can also enthuse voters like no other party leader, presenting an optimistic (if perhaps undefined) vision. The Conservatives need to deliver on that promise. We can expect more transactional politics targeted at rewarding voters the government sees as its priorities.
 
Incumbency important while the independence debate looms
Public optimism about the recovery has benefitted all parties in power. In Scotland the SNP fell just short of a majority while Welsh Labour posted its equal best result of all time.

The Holyrood result puts independence on the table and Nicola Sturgeon is daring Downing Street to face down demands for a referendum. However, Westminster holds the power and the government does not want to put the union in jeopardy. We can expect some delaying tactics and Boris Johnson’s request for a ‘Team UK’ summit on covid recovery demonstrates his desire to unify.
 
A new phase in Westminster
So what next? Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech is being briefed as a down payment on promises made to Conservative supporters. Boris Johnson will be emboldened by victory and will see calmer waters ahead. It is also a reminder that issues such as ‘curtain gate’ are simply not important to many people. They are interested in what government can do for them and many accept some controversy accompanies the PM.

A ministerial reshuffle is likely but the big battles to come are on funding and policy support. A three-year Spending Review this autumn presents some of the most difficult decisions Chancellor Rishi Sunak has faced. As for Labour? The party is in turmoil. The removal of Angela Rayner as party chair and campaign coordinator has triggered war among the internal factions. A reshuffle took place on Sunday but the biggest question is how it can communicate a vision which is relevant to the lives of voters it has lost.