Turning the Tide: Sir Keir Starmer Leads Labour to Victory

After five long years since the last election and fourteen years of a Conservative government, at last we have a change. We can wave goodbye to the impacts of Brexit, Covid-19, Partygate and the seemingly endless conveyor belt of Conservative ministers and finally close the page on this long arduous chapter of political history.

Except we can't. Unfortunately, many of the political ills which have plagued us for the past decade and a half will continue to cause problems for the incoming government. How the Labour government builds a relationship with Europe, recovers from the economic fallout of the pandemic and rebuilds the electorate's trust in politicians will come to define their term of office.

And most importantly for us, what will a Starmer government mean for the transport industry? More of the same, or a fresh start? What can we expect from the new Secretary of State for Transport, Louise Haigh and her Department?

A strange set of results

The story of election night was the devastating losses for the Conservatives, who now have just 121 MPs, compared to the 365 seats won in the 2019 election. This meant some high-profile departures including the former Prime Minster Liz Truss, the outgoing Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper, and his predecessor Grant Shapps. Reform splitting the traditional Conservative vote was ultimately fatal for the Conservative Party, which now has its lowest ever number of elected MPs.

This of course meant the Labour landslide which all the polls predicted came true. Starmer's party now have 411 seats in Parliament, giving them a simple majority of 172. This is despite a 34% vote share, a relatively low percentage of the vote for a majority government particularly one that controls such a large majority.

The Liberal Democrats also enjoyed a successful night winning 72 seats, a record number for the party, beating its previous best of 62 seats in 2005. The Green Party and Plaid Cymru secured four seats each, and Reform five, which is an impressive return for 'smaller parties'. However, it is interesting that Reform's vote share was 14% compared to the Lib Dems' 12%, so a big difference in how that vote share translated into seats. The SNP lost out heavily to Labour in Scotland and were reduced to just nine seats from 48 in 2019.

What this means for the make-up of Parliament is refreshingly new for all of us avid followers of Westminster. Rather than having two large parties dominate the house, with one commanding a majority, we are going to see one very large party, and several parties of varying size make up the opposition. The Conservatives will be the official opposition, but successful campaigns for other parties mean we have various parties with significant numbers of MPs and a large contingent of independents. Quite unusual in UK politics but something we are likely to see more of in future, which will resurrect arguments for the introduction of a proportional representation system.

What does this mean for transport?

With Labour's healthy majority, we can expect Starmer to deliver on his manifesto promises fully. Rail nationalisation will be at the top of the agenda for the Department for Transport, led by new Transport Secretary Louise Haigh. Labour will want to pass the Rail Reform Bill, with amendments to reflect their nationalisation ambitions, and create Great British Railways as soon as possible. Another manifesto commitment, that we expect to happen fairly quickly is restoring the phase out date of 2030 for new cars with internal combustion engines.

The appointment of Lord Peter Hendy of Richmond Hill CBE as a Minister of State in the Department for Transport means the Department will benefit from his lifetime of expertise in the sector.

We expect the detail of the new Government's transport policy and specific schemes to be fixed as part of the development of a long-term strategy for transport and the ten-year infrastructure strategy pledged in their manifesto. Given the focus on growth in Labour's general election campaign, and Lord Hendy's history of championing transport infrastructure projects, we expect investment in transport infrastructure to be a key part of the new government's growth plans.

The Metro Mayors are likely to be some of the most significant beneficiaries of the Labour majority, as eleven out of 12 metro mayors, including the Mayor of London, are Labour. The new Labour government with its strong mandate should make it easier to get things done in the city regions. Labour has committed to the principles of devolution throughout the election campaign, which is clear in their manifesto pledge to empower local leaders and encourage bus franchising. The relationships between the mayors and central government, and the authority and investment which stems from it, mean we are likely to see more transport policy dictated locally.

But it's important that as an industry, we don't get ahead of ourselves. The change in government will not magically solve all of our current problems. The economic situation that Labour inherit is dire and Starmer and his new Chancellor Rachel Reeves have made it abundantly clear that they will be fiscally responsible, and not spend beyond their means until macroeconomic indicators improve.

It's unrealistic to expect the new government to invest heavily in the short term to make rapid improvements to transport connectivity, safety and emissions. We can expect to see a stable direction of travel but the scale of investment that we desire as an industry is likely to take time and we must be prepared for this.