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Working 9 to 5

February 3rd 2023

Britain isn’t working.

This week teachers joined the long list of workers - train drivers, paramedics, nurses, bus drivers and more - who have downed tools to demand wage rises that compensate for rampant inflation. Further strikes are planned across all of these sectors.

Getting to work has begun to feel like grappling your way through a perverse, adult obstacle course. Securing a doctor’s appointment is akin to winning one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets. Thousands of schools closed their doors on Wednesday - kids unable to learn, parents unable to work.

Meanwhile the government does… nothing. They don’t negotiate. They don’t act. They don’t do. The government may be ideologically opposed to industrial action but they currently give the impression that they have opted for a spot of quiet quitting themselves. Minimum service standards are not being met on Whitehall.

The government isn’t working.


So, what’s the plan? The government believes that as voters tire of strikes and disruption and bored kids and ambulances not showing up, they will begin to blame the unions. And once they blame the unions, so the thinking goes, they will begin to blame Labour - beneficiaries as they are of some union largesse. This is step one of the Conservative strategy, such as it is.

Step two is all about Rishi. At one point, Rishi Sunak was the most popular politician in the country. You remember that period when he was paying two thirds of your wages and personally delivering you a half-price Wagamama’s? He was popular then – ‘Dishy Rishi’ and all. Tory strategists hope that this personal popularity has some residual presence in the hearts and minds of British voters and that perceptions of the Conservative Party will also be dragged upwards by positive perceptions of its leader.

These are the two steps on the tightrope to victory that the Conservative Party is depending on. They also have a sense - backed by some of the focus group findings the party has seen - that Keir Starmer is not yet clearly and positively defined as far as a lot of people are concerned. So, they think they have a shot. But do they?

Of course, things might change. Something might happen. But looking at the evidence available to us today, there is no real cause to believe that the strategy the Conservative Party is pursuing has much chance of success. The Labour lead has solidified around the 20 point mark. Rishi’s ratings are dropping closer to those of the party rather than dragging the party’s upwards. Most polls show that, while strikes are polarising, there is not a plurality blaming workers or unions and there is vanishingly little evidence that Labour is significantly harmed by what remains of their links to trade unions. Meanwhile, every reset Rishi has attempted so far has been drowned out by the barrage of scandals that is engulfing his government – what some have grimly dubbed ‘Long Boris’.

As MPs head home for recess in a week’s time, the state of play is that Labour remains likely to win the next election and it is plausible that they will win by a significant margin. For as long as the evidence points strongly in that direction, the pressure to add precision to Labour’s policy platform will grow. Starmer needs to nail down what he will do, both to prevent scare attacks from the Conservative Party and to establish a clear programme that binds his party to a set of key actions. Big majorities breed big rebellions, and the closer he is to one the more sensible it will be for Starmer to tie candidates to his agenda. All of which means that, for businesses and causes, now is the time to dial up engagement and to explain what you want and need to prosper.

It’s time to get to work.