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Jeremy's Blog 24th May 2024: The General Election is Called

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 23rd May 2024

So, the election has been triggered, precipitately resetting the cycle of government at a time of much unfinished practical business. While a new Parliament can, with time, change decided law, all outstanding policy decisions, as for DEFRA’s Higher Tier Scheme, are now for the new government once in place and briefed – and capable of going down different roads.

As Parliament rises by Thursday, almost all current legislation in it will be abandoned. Just a few Bills near completion might be rushed through, maybe not even all the Finance Bill from the Budget with its reduced rate of residential CGT. The long drawn out Renters Reform Bill may die, leaving English residential tenancy legislation to the incoming government. The extension of APR to farmland in environmental agreements no longer has a Parliament slot – nor do the prospective Income Tax and CGT changes for holiday cottages. These will be for a new government. The Financial Statement after an election is typically of a different character to the one before it.

The “purdah” period will stop the generality of policy engagement with the civil service. Scheme development stalls. The timetable of appointments, from the Commissioner for the Tenant Farming Sector to the Dartmoor Land Use Management Group, will be held over.

While normal business resumes after the election, the new government would have a couple of weeks of Parliament before its summer recess. That would give it time to bed in ahead of a busy autumn. If Labour wins, that might see the legislation for “bulldozing” the current planning process limitations on housing and infrastructure, with the newly promised expert working group to recommend sites for new towns, and breaking open the Green Belt.

The fundamental background is, with other west European countries, of an economy that has been stagnant since 2008, with productivity and income growth stalled. Tax takes more of the economy than at any time since the later 1940s, after the War, yet a large deficit endures. More needs to be spent on defence, previous defence spending having been used to fund the NHS. Growth is the only answer but has been hard to find. Major planning reform is necessary for this but is not sufficient for it, but it is not evident that any party is ready to lead on this.

In all this, English agricultural policy is unlikely to be a major battleground. Policy has been largely bipartisan for many decades, with more turning on the individual minister than on the party. Since November, we have been fortunate with an energetic Secretary of State, now losing his remaining possible months. Delinking done, the strategic decisions in moving from the CAP are in place.

Boris Johnson’s was our most environmental government. Labour says very little bar carbon but would inherit the existing legislation and commitments, including the nutrient neutrality it voted to keep.

The new government has the same pressures on public services, the risks from climate change and geopolitics, issues from AI to the unknown challenge. While a clear majority can set a new mood, it will create its own internal opposition. Without money, the risk is of a bias to policy by gesture, responding to sudden campaigns and appeasing backbenchers. With economic headwinds and a volatile electorate, we have the present warning of a majority of 80 running into the sand within its five years.

It is now for the parties to set out their analyses and answers, not only soliciting votes but seeking support for the leadership needed to face difficult times, not hide from them.

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