A snap general election has been called – but how will it affect real estate policy, Brexit, and our work at the BPF representing the industry? Answers to all your election questions below!
In Theresa May’s speech announcing that government would call a general election, she cited the actions of other parties in Parliament as well as the House of Lords, on the basis that their “political game-playing” was putting the government’s preparations for Brexit in jeopardy and weakening its hand in negotiations with the EU. She also alluded to the fact that the alternative, a general election in 2020, would mean party political election manoeuvres coinciding with the closing stages of Article 50 negotiations (due to finish in March 2019). Furthermore, an election in 2017 means the following election can be held as late as 2022, giving the government three years after the conclusion of Article 50 negotiations to navigate and implement all the necessary legislation and policy implications of a future outside the EU.
Other parties have of course accused the Prime Minister of political game-playing of her own, given the most recent polling data shows a substantial lead for the Conservatives. In reality, it is likely to have been a combination of several factors, both political and practical, that have driven the Prime Minister’s decision.
The general election will be held on Thursday 8 June 2017, meaning Parliament will be dissolved at 00.01am on Wednesday 3 May 2017.
Theresa May’s decision to call an election caught most by surprise, and has brought quite a few parliamentary careers to an early end. Several MPs have already indicated that they will not seek re-election, including some notable figures such as: George Osborne; Alan Johnson; Andy Burnham; Sir Eric Pickles and Douglas Carswell.
Conversely, a number of former MPs are taking the opportunity to enter the fray to re-take their former seats, including notable Liberal Democrats such as Sir Vince Cable, Sir Ed Davey, and Simon Hughes.
Purdah started on Thursday 20 April. Purdah is the unofficial word used to describe the period immediately before an election or referendum where there are restrictions on the activity of civil servants. More officially, it is called the ‘pre-election period’. You can read the official Cabinet Office guide to the pre-election period.
During an election, public services can’t just stop. The government retains the ability to govern and ministers continue to be in charge of their departments. Civil servants continue to deliver government business, and deal with any crisis that emerges. However, during ‘purdah’ both ministers and civil servants will seek to keep in mind that they should do all they can not to ensure that public resources are used for party political purposes.
You should expect to see a dwindling of grandstanding political announcements that seek to use the machinery of government, as well as of major policy announcements. Clearly this is distinct from ministers campaigning at national and local level, and making policy commitments in manifestos.
Six major Bills are currently in ‘ping pong’. They have been agreed by both Houses, but amendments are being negotiated. The government does not have a majority in the Lords, which has led to some quite high profile Lords rebellions, including over the Housing and Planning Bill and the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
Of the Bills currently in progress, the Higher Education and Research Bill is perhaps the most controversial, and is likely to result in compromises. If parliamentary time is already a finite resource, the ticking clock to a general election six weeks away puts such time at a further premium. Therefore, any time spent on seeking compromise on existing Bills in ping pong may eat into the time available for further Bills that have yet to find their way to resolution.
The Finance (No. 2) Bill had its second reading in the Commons on 18 April, but will be substantially cut, with dropped clauses including new rules around losses and restrictions on the tax deductibility of corporate interest expense. However, it is like that most of the clauses being dropped will show up in a Bill introduced by the new government after the election.
The Local Government Finance Bill (which will allow for 100% business rates retention by local government) was supposed to be considered at third reading and report stage in the Commons this week. Further dates have not been announced and we are seeking clarity on the Bill’s status. Presumably the remaining stages were being held back in view of purdah restrictions around local elections, but the announcement relating to the general election has now raised the prospect of prorogation.
Consultations, green papers and white papers that were published before the election was called remain live and the deadlines for responses have not changed. So, for example, the consultation on banning letting agents fees remains due for responses on 2 June. However, it will be up to the new government to choose whether or not, and if so, how, to take forward the proposals in all of these consultations.
Responses to consultations on the policies set out in the Housing White Paper are due by 2 May. In reality we will not know what policies will be taken forward until the manifestos are launched in May, however it is likely that the Conservatives will use segments of the Housing White Paper to shape the Conservative Manifesto.
The Conservative Manifesto is due on 8 May. There has been speculation that it could be rather short compared to the 120 page document that David Cameron launched in 2010, with the Prime Minister urging for a “clear sense of direction” modelled on Margaret Thatcher’s slim 1979 manifesto, which offered just five ideas.
The Labour Party Manifesto is due on 15 May. The Labour leader has so far set out some key pledges on zero-hour contracts, the minimum wage and four extra bank holidays but has not detailed any pledges relating to the real estate industry.
There is some variation between different polling companies, but all the polls are showing robust leads for the Conservative party, most are showing extremely strong leads up in the high teens, a few breaking 20. As the polls currently stand a Conservative majority looks likely. The size of it is a different matter, the 21 point lead in the recent YouGov, ICM and ComRes polls would produce a majority in excess of 100, a nine point lead like in the recent Opinium poll would only see a small increase in the Conservative majority. This is all just speculation and, as there are six weeks to go, a lot could change.
The BPF will work with whatever government is in power to help deliver economic success, essential infrastructure and great places. We have been around for over 50 years and during that time have worked with a range of governments.
We are in constant dialogue with politicians of all parties as part of our ongoing engagement with all who influence policy, and have developed strong relationships across the board. In addition, our partnership with government through civil servants in departments including BEIS, DCLG, No 10 and HMT stands us in good stead to continue this working relationship, whatever the outcome of the election.
We won’t be issuing a policy manifesto ahead of this election, but will focus on the messages outlined in our Brexit manifesto that call on government to pursue objectives that will support real estate investment by:
We are also ready to represent the real estate industry’s voice in any hot button issues relating to property that may arise during the election campaign, such as business rates, housing supply, or foreign ownership of property.
Ordinarily the leader of a party with a clear majority after polling day will ask Her Majesty for permission to form a government. He or she will then appoint a Cabinet and junior ministers, schedule an opening of Parliament and proceed to implement their manifesto.
Government formation is a political process. In 2010, this took some days to achieve, and a number of options were tested until the successful attempt was made. It is for the parties and their leaders to determine who is best placed to form a government that can command the confidence of Parliament.
If the Prime Minister requests it, the civil service can be asked to provide limited support to any negotiations that take place between parties. Gordon Brown authorised such support in 2010 and remained in post until the negotiations between different parties were concluded.
The only party that opposes Brexit as a policy platform is the Liberal Democrats. The Labour Party has experienced a number of internal divisions over the matter of Brexit, as indeed have the Conservatives. In the case of the latter, a snap election being called is in many ways an opportunity to give the government, should it be returned, a stronger mandate to conduct the kind of Brexit it wishes to, less constricted by the pitfalls of its small majority.