It seems like the only thing that is predictable about politics at the moment is unpredictability. As soon as we are getting used to the idea of leaving the EU and having Trump in the White House, we end up with a surprise election result and a hung parliament. While many people are wondering what this latest political development means for them, we’ve also been figuring out what the election result means for the BPS’s policy work, and for the discipline of Psychology.
We were very pleased that BPS member and clinical psychologist Lisa Cameron was re-elected to her East Kilbride constituency, despite the overall loss of 21 Scottish National Party MPs on the night. Lisa has been very supportive of our efforts to bring psychological evidence to the heart of Westminster and our advisors will be back in touch with her as soon as the dust settles.
Theresa May’s failure to increase the Conservatives’ majority and the weakening of her mandate led to a more restrained cabinet reshuffle than had been anticipated. In the main, departmental manoeuvring has been limited to filling gaps left by the number of prominent ministers who lost their seats, rather than any more obvious power plays.
Pro-EU Damian Green MP has been appointed to the Cabinet Office as first secretary of state and unofficial deputy prime minister, leaving behind his role at the Department of Work and Pensions. This could be a boost for those hoping for a softer Brexit, but is also significant for the BPS as we have been providing psychological insight and evidence to the department around the Work Capability Assessment and how to improve the current welfare system. Along with Jeremy Hunt, Green was a driving force behind the Improving Lives Green Paper, which signalled a shift in emphasis for DWP and highlighted individualised support and the need for a safety net.
Green has been replaced by David Gauke, previously appointed to Chief Secretary to the Treasury when Theresa May became PM. Gauke has been promoted through the Treasury ranks since 2010, working under George Osborne, and was involved in the Comprehensive Spending Review to reduce public expenditure. Viewed in the context of his experience of imposing controls on departmental budgets, his appointment as Secretary of State to the largest spending department could signal changing priorities that we will need to respond to. Penny Mordaunt MP, who has been receptive to hearing our evidence in the past, has been re-appointed to the Department for Work and Pensions, although her remit has yet to be announced.
Over in the Department of Health, Jeremy Hunt remains at the top but two of his ministers, Nicola Blackwood and David Mowat lost their seats. They have been replaced by Jackie Doyle-Price MP and Steve Brine MP, though we don’t yet know where responsibility for mental health will land. Meanwhile, we can expect business as usual on some of the big ticket policies in the Tory manifesto that had already been announced by May or Cameron’s government, such as the Sustainable Transformation Plans and the Five Year Forward View. However more controversial elements of these policies may struggle without a stable political backdrop.
In addition, the more controversial policies in the manifesto such as the ‘Dementia Tax’ social care funding proposals are now unlikely to see the light of day. Simon Stevens will continue to play a very important role and we will continue to work with our NHS England colleagues on policy around mental health, particularly focussing on Children and Young People and Prevention. The new DH ministers will also be key targets for furthering our policy recommendations on dementia [link] and those in the forthcoming briefing being prepared by the Society’s Obesity task and finish Group.
Jo Johnson has retained his position as Universities Minister and Nick Gibb has continued as Minister for School Standards with responsibility for the curriculum and qualifications. It therefore seems likely that the plans for REF 2021 will continue on schedule. We will continue to press for transparent, fair and appropriate assessment for the whole discipline. We will also launch a campaign to increase awareness and influence on pre-tertiary education policy and curriculum development.
Working with new Ministers presents both the challenge of having to “start from scratch” but also an opportunity to influence a fresh face who may be open to evidence based policy making and a fresh approach. Either way, Psychology has much to contribute and we will ensure that we maximise opportunities to make a difference and achieve impact.
We expect the response to terrorism and extremism to rise up the political agenda significantly in response to the horrific attacks in Manchester and London during the election campaign. May’s focus since the election has been working with the French President Macron and social media companies on joint responses to tackling online extremism, but the remit is likely to expand further. Psychologists from across the discipline – both practitioners and academics – have much to offer in terms of research and experience to help shape an evidence-based policy response.
This election has also brought new significant players to the table in the form of the Democratic Union Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland. The DUP have always been quick to back the Tories, but they will be looking for something in return. Exactly what we don’t yet know, but the announcement of the delay to the queen’s speech suggests negotiations have not been as straightforward as May’s team would have hoped.
As well as questions over the ability of the Conservatives to act as a neutral broker in the Northern Ireland devolved power-sharing agreement, concerns have been raised over the DUPs stance on issues like same-sex marriage and climate change. We don’t expect social issues to be part of the “vote by vote” agreement with the DUP but the BPS will be watching closely for any back-sliding on these issues that are important for many of our members and the people they work with.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the possibility of another election is not out of the question. Many seats were won on the narrowest of margins – there were less than 50 votes in it for 11 constituencies – and that will influence the behaviour of party leaders and MPs. The behaviour of politicians themselves from a psychological perspective will be fascinating to watch in the coming months.