The 2017 general election changed the political shape of the House of Commons. Mathematically, the number of 650 MPs equals that of a square pyramid (144+121+100+81+64+49+36+25+16+9+4+1); although it might be said that the hung Parliament that the election has produced is not necessarily as robust as its arithmetical analogue.
At 328, the sum of Conservative (318) and DUP (10) seats would be sufficient to govern and this seems to be where matters are headed. What might these developments mean for insurance-related measures which had been shelved or side-lined pending the election?
A critical point is that the much-reduced majority – in fact, Mrs May would lead a minority administration – will surely trim political ambitions. Controversial elements of the manifesto may need to be rethought or retargeted because any necessary legislation now faces a more precarious passage through the Commons. This fact could mean that other methods for effecting change, such as secondary legislation, might be favoured.
In the case of ‘whiplash’ reforms, primary legislation had already been moved to reduce levels of general damages and to ban pre-medical offers. The first, although cited in the Conservative manifesto, is highly controversial and might be re-assessed in the very new post-election era. Accompanying proposals to change the small claims limit for injury cases do not need primary legislation and for that reason alone might be taken forward separately in any event. Both elements, however, were very much part of a package promoted by previous Ministers and it is just too early to say if they are going to be uncoupled. Before the election was called, implementation had been scheduled for October 2018 and claimant representatives will no doubt want to see these reforms languish in Whitehall’s proverbial long grass. Naturally, insurers will be expecting to push for continued progress – just as they did during last year’s post-referendum hiatus.
At the other end of the claims curve, cases of the highest severity have been subject to the new minus 0.75% discount rate for barely three months (the rate having been +2.5% over the preceding 16 years). A consultation which hinted at a new approach end in mid-May 2017. Legislation to implement any new approach was expected, even if the issue was not mentioned in manifestos. Given that measures here would be very controversial – and almost certain to be preceded by all manner of attempts at judicial review – it might be thought that a minority administration would wish to avoid those headaches. But that may not necessarily be the case, particularly given that Government itself is a significant compensator here. Stakeholders’ positions are strongly held and relevant arguments have been well-marshalled on all sides. It is not at all clear if a new Government is going to have the appetite to make a difficult decision on this topic relatively quickly and to push that through. The publication, perhaps later in the summer, of an analysis of responses to the recent consultation should offer some clues.
Before then, further clues about the new Government’s priorities will be found in the Queen’s Speech, expected to be scheduled for 19 June. Even if there is a clear legislative intent on key issues, including the issues mentioned here, the reality is that domestic priorities are likely to have to take a back seat as the UK moves closer to leaving the EU in March 2019. So the window for these changes to be brought about may be limited, as well as closing all the time.
The arithmetical significance of 650 as the number of MPs is pure coincidence, but it is one which serves as a reminder that a much-changed form of political calculus has been brought to bear by the election outcome.