2023 was barely a week old and both major party leaders were out and about talking priorities for the year ahead, commitments and promises – both well aware of how crucial the months ahead will be.

Rishi Sunak’s five-point plan to bring down inflation, deal with the NHS and deliver better public services in education and communities was no surprise and so many voters will feel like these issues are constants for any government.

Keir Starmer, meanwhile, wants to present himself as a PM in waiting, so speaks the language of the so-called ‘Red Wall’. He talks about ‘taking back control’ and delivering more devolution to communities, a pledge that comes off the back of his constitutional reform package at the end of last year.

Inflation and the cost pressures being faced by households and businesses will, no doubt, dominate the news agenda and will be compounded by industrial action and the winter demands on many public services.

In addition to these headline issues there are several key political events that will contribute hugely to the year ahead:

Spring Statement

  • The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt is planning to deliver a spring statement in March where he will hope to show improvement in the health of public spending, whilst offering optimism for the year ahead. Politically, it is an important moment where the government will hope to show a sense of direction and purpose, whilst also teasing out Labour positions.

Elections

  • Local elections in England in May could result in councils across the country changing hands. The vote will be seen as a test of Sunak’s leadership, with polls consistently showing him and the Tories 20 points behind Labour.

Levelling Up

  • Michael Gove is back at the helm for the project he kicked off under Boris Johnson and will want to show delivery is real and understood by voters. But he’s already having to fight off allegations that the latest round of levelling up awards are biased towards Tory areas and south east England.

Tied to levelling up will be planning reforms and gearing up to an election where housing and local communities look set to be a major focus. There has been continued questioning of how well understood the agenda is and how Conservative MPs can best articulate the plans – this will remain under heavy scrutiny throughout 2023. Labour also has a competing vision to Levelling Up, and it looks set to become a ‘battle ground’ issue throughout 2023.

Northern Ireland Protocol

  • The on-going dispute over a settlement for Northern Ireland post-Brexit remains an open sore in many ways. Currently, it is halting any progress to a return of Stormont and a fully functioning devolved government. It is also a constant thorn in the side of new relations between the EU and the UK, particularly on joint programmes like Horizon, Erasmus and wider cultural programmes. The landing zone appears to be how dispute mechanisms can be triggered without the European Courts playing the final role in arbitration.

All this plays into the build-up to a general election, widely expected in 2024.

Parties will begin preparing their manifestos from early 2023 as policy positions begin to take shape.

2022 was a tumultuous year in Westminster. 2023 will be pivotal in shaping the political destiny of the country.