Boris Johnson is back in Downing Street, yet the raw politics of this crisis is still a twinkle in the eye for many a politico. An exit crunch from this predicament could be determined by politicians not sat around the cabinet table in Downing Street; leaders in Scotland and Wales, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford, have offered their own view on what comes next and other voices around the UK will soon follow.
The first ministers, along with local mayors in England, will all be feeling the political tingles in their toes with election campaigning due to start in a matter of months.
Devolved politics as part of a borderless crisis is a fascinating cocktail. We are now seeing behind the magician’s curtain at the apparent strengths and weaknesses of the kind of localism that has developed across the United Kingdom over the past twenty years.
The political tension that comes with our current devolution settlement is structural and is not defined by political party. Covid-19 has scrubbed away borders across the globe nor does it give a hoot about the Barnett formula or who picks up the tab. In devolution terms, Covid has been the great leveller and will change how localism operates once the crisis has passed.
The NHS and schools are not controlled by the Conservatives in Scotland or Wales and have not been for twenty years. But cabinet ministers in Westminster are feeling the heat by all those impacted by this crisis and it does not matter whether it is in Aberdeen, Abingdon or Aberystwyth. The pressure will only increase as we approach an exit crunch. How parties and their leaders handle the exit and subsequent fallout will have a major bearing on the elections across the UK in 2021.
Change could be coming – for example, the Tories are polling at record levels in Wales. Has Nicola Sturgeon come to the view that independence in Scotland is moving down the political agenda and is the Labour party in Wales losing a century-old grip on power? The big question is how the now-delayed mayoral elections will be handled by Andy Burnham, Sadiq Khan, Andy Street and Ben Houchen in England. The public’s attitude to local leadership is being tested, some might say for the first time, by Covid-19 and politics has yet to start in earnest.
The temptation for the politicians seeking to hold on to power ahead of major elections will just be too great for some. The prime minister knows that the political mudslinging will come and could force his hand – despite the Whitehall levers being pulled in a way we have not seen since the war.
Normal politics has been suspended as we know it for now, but as night follows day, political instinct will return and with that an exit crunch. For now, it is destination unknown. But it will set the tone for all the major political parties and devolution and localism itself for the 2021 elections. Why? Because this crisis has the political careers of first ministers, mayors and cabinet ministers in its grasp.