Oh, happy days…

Dr Clive Black

June 5, 2024 8:45 am
Oh, happy days…

The calling of the 2024 General Election in July has been greeted with a sense of relief in many quarters, my own included, that a worse than poor Conservative regime will come to an end sooner rather than later.

The Sunak regime will bring to a close a period of political history where the analysis will most probably become unkinder with time; Cameron, the toff who could not believe he won the 2105 election and so the Brexit debacle ensued, May, a Remainer who was tasked to leave the EU and bored the country to submission whilst causing in-party turmoil, Johnson, a populist who blew his majority in a party, that said he was truly unlucky with the pandemic and Ukraine War, Truss, best to keep quiet on the human hand grenade, and then there was poor old technocrat Sunak trying to clean up the mess with a cabal that were frankly a car crash.

The UK 2024 Election being called is a good thing, but one week in the campaign feels one big yawn with a list of leaders that do not reflect well on the UK’s political system.

The Tories have an immense legacy of incompetence to overcome, bunting in Somerset and many other places will no doubt be raised if Rees-Mogg is booted out, but Labour does not look like a united party, Starmer needed more time to fully purge the likes of Abbott. The Reform Party, bigger in the polls that the Liberal Democrats, do not look the most progressive Brits and will further cull the old bitter Tories, the Liberal Democrats are led by a joke behaving like a school kid who should perhaps be reflecting on the Post Office scandal, whilst John Swinney of the SNP looks like he could bore John Swinney of the SNP to sleep. And then there are the Greens, where if Scotland is anything to go by, look like they represent the tail wagging the dog of British society party.

All in all, it will be a relief to see the 5 July arrive, probably with a big Labour majority, albeit a slaughter of the Tories would not be good for ongoing governance, we have seen that overwhelming majorities lead to the potential for bad behaviour, haven’t we Boris…

For the British food system, what does this electoral development mean? Well, if Labour is elected, it surely cannot put up a DEFRA minister who is a worse candidate than Terese Coffey, noting that Steve Barclay, her successor, was more competent. So maybe there are grounds for hope at first base. That said, Labour’s position on the UK food system is not clear, agriculture is not a political priority and the traditional farming constituencies may find their noise is not especially well listened to.

A more interventionalist government can be expected, the key question is in what way? By the party’s name, some reform of the labour process can be expected, which if it delivered enhanced domestic skills and human capabilities over time would be a good thing, especially if welfare was replaced by work…, but if it simply increases costs and complexities for all organisations, then expect capital replacement of labour to grow further still.

On the planning regime, where the Tories have simply been a disaster, reform to make it function, like requiring officers to work, would be a step forward. The culture and performance of the Civil Service, which I have called out before, is another big enabling issue or otherwise for Labour, its policies could yet go into the self-perpetuating soup that has bamboozled the Tories for years.

Relations with the EU, notably France/Belgium on illegal immigration, and Ireland on wider issues plus how any Labour regime works with Biden or, dare I say, Trump, will be important as well as how the UK faces into malevolent forces in China, Iran, and Russia as well as seizing opportunities in the current and future growth region that is The Middle East.

Back to the food system, there is a chance to think in different ways, end-to-end, embracing the challenge and opportunity of security, evolving this into animal welfare, sustainability and trade strategies, and a fresh approach to skills, knowing where our food comes from and how holistically we can improve the nation’s health through diet/food amongst other factors.

Over time, such an approach could also reap dividends for a somewhat dysfunctional UK health system the problems of which are as much about the naïve and idealistic BMA as it is the sheugh of DoH, Ministers and too many overpaid and underachieving civil servants and health managers. It is all too late, indeed, for the Tories to speak about opening new GP practices funded by a smaller healthcare management class after so many years of total incapability.

Stability, controlled inflation, lower base rates, and merely not interfering endlessly and uselessly – DRS and HFSS for example – would also be a progression from any new government. Alas, looking at the runners & riders, this probably is too much to ask. The chance of an enlightened approach towards the UK food system does not feel like it is on the horizon, more crazy thinking and illogical involvement may be on the way.

In such context, I contend that UK food businesses remain focused on customers, costs and cash. With the latter two of these variables, Coriolis can be a force for good, no matter who is in charge; give Mark Dudley a shout if you wish to discuss with grounded, real and nice people.

Oh, happy days!

Dr Clive Black

Vice Chairman

Shore Capital Markets

June 2024

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