March Political Intelligence
Revitalising the high streets has been a central conversation in Parliament, a perfect landscape for the APPF for Textiles and Fashion’s meeting on Retail: future of high streets and online shopping. Kevin Foster Conservative MP for Torbay asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Jake Berry “What plans he has to use the future high streets fund to transform town centres?” Emma Hardy MP lamented that Hull missed out on the transforming cities fund to improve a road notorious for being a roadblock. In making her case and asking for the “cash now”, she also picked up on the point that retail is not the only feature to be improved if the high street needs to be changed. As well as better infrastructure, strong local leadership and better competition conditions against the digital sector are necessary to restore high streets and town centres.
The House considered International Women’s day, reflecting on achievements and the still long way to go. Liz Saville Roberts reminded the house that International Women’s day was first celebrated in protest of working conditions to which garment workers were subjected to in the US. Worries that ranged from the increasing gender pay-gap and domestic abuse were put to rest by the Minister’s comment on the increase of female statues across the UK.
The complexity of the garment industry was brought up during the consideration of the Draft Law Applicable to Contractual Obligations and Non-Contractual Obligations (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. Fashion Roundtable have been vocal in expressing their worry about Brexit and the textiles and fashion industry. Mr Barry Sherman expressed confusion on the behalf of his exporting constituents – if trading with Rome and something goes wrong, what laws will the parties abide by? The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lucy Frazer, explained that very little will change because the government is maintaining regulations as a matter of UK law, however, specific rules that relate to insurance contracts, consumer contracts and employment contracts are an exception.
A case a David and Goliath? Kevin Brennan MP for Cardiff West told the success turn failure story of his constituent, who’s entrepreneurial venture collapsed after partnering with Amazon. The small business had experienced years of growth, and after signing a distribution agreement with Amazon, they were unable to keep up with absurd order numbers made by Amazon’s buyers. After investing to grow production, the Founder saw that orders were decreasing but that his product’s stock levels were growing on Amazon’s website. Amazon replicated the company’s products and stopped placing orders for the original ones – in Brennan’s words “Amazon effectively cloned his business and starved the original.” What will the government do? The same as it has done, providing vague and well-intentioned support for SMEs and business owners.
“What do we want?”
“We don’t know”
“And when do we want it?”
Uncertainty has been the main theme of Brexit – who is making the decisions, what are the decisions and on what grounds are they being made? From your typical Newsnight viewer to the ambitious business owner to those sitting in Parliament, no one seems to fully comprehend what is going on. As well as being very tiring, it is expensive. Businesses cannot prepare for the unknown, and millions of pounds have already been spent (possibly in vain) on Brexit contingency plans both in the public and private sectors.
To start, this Parliament is the least experienced House that has ever sat in the House of Commons – very unfortunate timing. This means that tensions within and between parties are not solved with the same swiftness as they could otherwise have been. The polarising issues that emerged with Brexit have put Mrs May is in the unique position of being in power but having very little control over her Party, but not having enough of an opposition to lose a vote of no confidence. The Tories have a weak majority, exacerbated by the lack of a common objective between their MPs. The Labour Party is no better off, as they have failed to provide a clear Brexit strategy, leaving MPs and voters to come to their own conclusions.
MPs are also divided: the safety of their seat is dependent on votes, but when voting on the future of the UK and the EU, how should they vote? Should they follow what their Constituents want (assuming MPs know what their constituents want – the vote was three years ago and there is evidence that references have changed)? Should they follow the party whip? Or should they vote according to their personal values? This all depends on how you interpret democracy: is an MP elected to directly represent the voice of their Constituents, is the role of the MP to be in line with the Party, or is the MP elected to stand for the values they campaigned with? And what happened when the constituency is divided? And what happens when all of these are in conflict?
The government, the Tories, Mrs May, the voters – democracy is (mostly) a very well balanced act between decision-makers. But Brexit has been a game-changer, challenging the traditional left-right and Tory-Conservative divide and leaving no common agenda and strategy to achieve it.