UCL Policy Lab


Change and respect: the hopes at the heart of this election campaign

4 July 2024

For too long British politics has left its best talents on the bench. An incoming Prime Minister should change our style of politics and policy for the better, putting country first and party second.

Keir Starmer and Angela Raynor visiting Harlow Football Ground

Almost five times as many people watched England men’s team play at the Euros this Sunday than watched the last leaders’ debate in the general election. But it was a tired performance by England nonetheless.

It mirrored the general sense of exhortation in the country that has dominated this election: too many unanswered questions, too many changes and too many challenges.

Yet, as everyone will long remember, in the end there was a moment of catharsis. A 21-year old from Birmingham, Jude Bellingham, rose through the air – his legs somehow reaching over his head to connect with a ball that seemed to hang awaiting his boot. And the country rose with him, with relief and joy made real.

For that moment, millions regained their energy, excited by a moment of brilliance and believing in a flash that something else was possible. Questions remained but there was a glimmer of the hope that was once taken for granted.

This election campaign has often felt like the less exciting bits of the football. It has sometimes been slow, pondering without a sense of excitement. It has been too long and unwieldly. It has felt like a process - something we must go through, in order to come through the other side.

Our political managers seem to have as long a list of unanswered questions as our sporting ones and risk aversion has often dominated any attacking style. And yet much like the quietly spoken, waistcoat-wearing gaffer, Britain’s political leaders have extraordinary talent still to be drawn upon.

Because Britain remains a nation with great advantages. Throughout this election, we have witnessed it in the places and people that the Policy Lab has spoken to: in the businesses, communities, individuals, and ideas that could well be the envy of the world.

Too often at the moment, though, these individuals, communities and institutions feel that they’re being asked to play in a system that just doesn’t support them or respect their contribution. Their flare is hampered by tactics which do not unlock their potential.

On election day, everyone here at the UCL Policy Lab is thinking about the possibilities a new government could unlock for the country.

Ultimately, they will be faced with a long list of challenges. If, as the polls predict, Keir Starmer walks into Number 10 tomorrow, he will be met with an unenviable list. This is one of the many reasons why it does not feel like a 1997 moment.

Yet we could get something more important, more inspiring: a Prime Minister willing to recognise the limits of his and his own party’s power, however big the victory.

Country first, party second in more ways than one.

Time and time again, Keir Starmer has spoken about the need for politics and government to work together with communities, business and institutions. There is an acceptance that the problems are too big, too complex to be managed by one party, one individual or one department.

It is why convening, involving and respecting the talents of all will be so important.

This election day may not have the excitement of a nail biter, no political penalty shoot-out or a game going long into extra time, no fantastic display of political style. But something else will emerge. We hope that it is not just a new manager at the top, but, in the words of our colleague James Graham, a new story too: one that is told together. And that through that story we can create a new political culture: one that makes the most of the extraordinary talents the country has in each and every community.

It might not seem like it now, but hope can come from a moment of change – just ask Jude Bellingham.