Examining 2021: Political Opportunities and Challenges

Watch event recording for  ‘Examining 2021: Political Opportunities and Challenges’ with The Times Res Box reporter Esther Webber, hosted by Lansons as part of our Lansons Media Live sessions, February 04.
Watch Recording

2020 was a year like no other, and 2021 presents untold challenges to the country and our government with the continuation of the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact of Brexit and Scottish independence dominating the agenda. However, the year also presents opportunities with the potential to build back better with the government’s levelling up promises, driven by green policies as Britain headlines on the international stage as host of the G7 in June and COP26 in November.

On Thursday 4th February, Lansons Board Director James Dowling was joined by The Times Red Box reporter Esther Webber to discuss these political opportunities and challenges as we look ahead at the events of the year.

UK Government’s coronavirus recovery

The discussion started with the dominating issue of current times, the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst the government has struggled during the crisis, they have managed to impress since the turn of the year with their successful vaccine distribution and James questioned whether this can be a ‘get out of jail’ card for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Esther Webber said that this would definitely help, but it ‘doesn’t wave a magic wand’. She highlighted that the vaccine success will provide short term benefits of immunisation with a long-term dividend of being remembered by the public in the next election. However, Esther did warn that whilst Boris Johnson may be protected at the moment by the immediate crisis, after there will be more questions to answer.

Possible cabinet reshuffle

The discussion then moved to a possible Cabinet reshuffle, with James highlighting that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is at -48 approval. Esther said that a reshuffle is ‘on the horizon’ and will be geared to helping the briefs that need ‘someone to take control of the agenda and avoid walking into silly mistakes’. The event audience indicated they believed the next Cabinet reshuffle would most likely take place in July.

Boris’ pledge to #LevellingUp

An audience member asked what Esther thought is the greatest threat to Boris Johnson’s position as Prime Minister. She argued that levelling up is the big thing he has to deliver and will be judged on, with a feeling among some Conservative MPs that there hasn’t been the kind of ground-breaking progress they have been hoping for and the government needs to start delivering in a big way on this policy issue.

March Budget

James then moved onto the topic of the Budget, which will be held on March 3rd. He asked how Chancellor Rishi Sunak can balance the pressures of wanting to achieve manifesto commitments such as levelling up and wanting to fix the country’s finances. Esther proposed that that this will be a coronavirus budget as the Chancellor still needs to help people that are in an immediately difficult situation. Whilst she argued that there would not be tax rises until later in the year, 60% of the audience believed that there would be some in the March budget.


On the topic of Brexit, James highlighted the issues faced in Northern Ireland by the UK-EU deal. Esther shared concerns that something the UK agreed only a month ago is not working now. However, she did believe that now the UK and EU are out of negotiations, it is an opportunity for both sides to be a bit more pragmatic and get to grips with the fact they have a role in securing the future of the peace process and this is something that needs to be taken seriously.


The conversation then moved to COP26, the highly-anticipated UN Climate Change conference, which will be hosted in Glasgow in November. Esther said that ‘people are impatient to understand what the Net Zero target means’, and that it has not broken through to voters that something big is on the horizon.

Keir Starmer’s Labour Party

James then took the opportunity to ask Esther her view on Labour leader Keir Starmer’s current strategy, stating that not everyone on the Labour side is happy with the approach being taken.

Esther agreed with this point, and said it is becoming a concern with him. Whilst he had a grace period until the end of the year having taken over a party in a terrible state and needing a lot of work to make it ‘seaworthy’, this cannot be the whole project. She argued that if people don’t associate him with any clear image or policy, it will continue to become quite difficult for him. The audience were split on Starmer’s performance, with 57% saying he had done a good job.

Scottish Independence

Finally, the discussion came onto the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish Independence which is clearly a prominent issue for the year ahead. James and Esther both agreed that, despite SNP infighting, they will still likely see success in the May elections due to the popularity of Nicola Sturgeon and the growing strength of the pro-independence movement.

Esther stated that the UK government clearly do take the issue of secession seriously and recognise it as a problem, however this is not the same as knowing what to do about it. However, she did make a big claim that she did not think there would be an independence referendum before the next election, though it will continue to be huge dominant issue. The audience disagreed, with 67% believing that there would be a referendum in the next two years.

The event ended with questions on Esther’s role as a reporter for The Times Red Box, writing a morning email that is read by thousands with an interest in politics. She said that whilst it brings pressures, it is a privilege to have a direct line into many people’s inboxes.


An event recording for ”Examining 2021: Political Opportunities and Challenges’ hosted February 04, is now available to watch on-demand here

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Alice Pleasant

Political Consultant