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Westminster watch: back to work

Lobbyists find elections and campaigns frustrating. For a start, things have a habit of changing. You get to know all the pieces on the chessboard, how they move, which piece is stronger than another and under what circumstances. Then, periodically, someone kicks the board into the air and we wait with baited breath to see how the pieces land.

But perhaps the most frustrating bit is that things stop happening. In politics we divide them into short and long campaigns. The short campaign is when the official starting gun goes off (and election expenses rules apply) and that is when you quite rightly expect the machinery and activity to grind to a halt and let the parties slug it out. When it’s done, people dust themselves off and get on with things again and we lobbyists try and figure out what the new rules are. The long campaign, by contrast, is the gradual shifting of attention away from government months prior to electioneering, as sound bites and key messages/dividing lines become more prevalent.

The past year hasn’t really been like that though. For a start, the long campaigns are getting longer but we also have the sheer density of votes. In the past 12 months we have had a general election, Labour leadership election, London mayoral candidate selections, the Scottish parliament elections, Welsh Assembly elections, London Mayor and Assembly elections and local government elections, a handful of parliamentary by-elections and, of course, the EU referendum. That’s a lot of chessboards kicked in the air... but, importantly, it’s also a lot of politicians not focusing on their day-job – which is governing.

As a consequence, there is a huge backlog on the ‘to do’ list that needs to be worked through, and lots of it is relevant to our industry.

The airport expansion question was postponed for Sir Howard Davies’s Commission to do its work, then postponed for additional work on air quality and, at time of going to press, mooted to be liable for further postponement.

HS2 Phase 1 is still making its tortuous way through parliament while the UK’s top civil servant sifts through its details looking for things to cut and save money. HS2 Phase 2 (beyond Manchester) is supposed to be making an appearance in this parliament, too.

Crossrail 2, that additional slug of infrastructure for the capital, looks like it is going to get the go-ahead and is likely to enter parliament as a bill in 2018, but is also being dissected for cost savings with a mooted £3 billion needing to be found.

Air passenger duty looked to be in serious jeopardy when the SNP turned their sights on it as a ‘Westminster-imposed’ tax and promised to cut it in half and see what impact that had on travel and, in doing so, caused much gnashing of teeth in the North of England, which saw its own airports potentially competitively undermined. But the SNP’s failure to secure a majority in their election means that any bill would need opposition party support and that looks highly unlikely.

Add to this decisions on the M4 relief road in Wales, the West Coast rail franchise, HS3, rail electrification, the devolution of rail franchise awarding powers, mooted plans for a ‘digital railway’, the expansion of London City Airport... the list goes on.

It’s time for those in power to start governing, because we need to get things moving.

Gareth Morgan is a political lobbyist and director with Cavendish Communications. He is an advisor to the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC).


You didn't include devolution of powers over local public transport to the new devolved regions. Bus services take business travellers to and from rail stations and airports...

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