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Consumer Trends 2024: 2024 – the year of the election, why does that matter?

23 January 2024
As the clock ticks down towards the inevitable UK election by the end of January 2025 at the latest, it feels as if government is starting to slow – just waiting for the date to be announced. The UK is not alone, with EU elections in June, the US in the autumn and about another 63 countries expected to go to the polls this year.

This represents what Time magazine has calculated as about 49% of the world's population voting in 2024. The decisions made will shape local, regional and global policy for the foreseeable future. Although, in some areas much more than others, this will have a significant impact on progress made towards COP and other global goals.

These elections also have significant impacts on the macro, micro and regional politics, and from that point of view - the decisions of votes in 2024 are likely to be far reaching.

The UK

By law, the UK must hold a general election by the end of January 2025. As it is very unlikely that any party would wish to have its peak campaign period falling over the Christmas and New Year period, in reality this means that the elections will likely occur in 2024. UK last election occurred on 12 December 2019, however every election prior to that (in the period back to 1997) occurred on the first Thursday of either May or June, with four out of six being May. Therefore, if history is any indication, 2 May 2024 or 6 June appear to be potential dates, though increasingly unlikely with every day that passes.

Unless there can be some sort of miracle over the next few weeks, then a poll in May or June would (if current opinion polls are accurate) result in a change of government. With the latest IPSOS polls showing labour to have a 27% lead, it also seems like the Conservatives need all the time they can get to have any hope of making it close. At present, if the polls are accurate, the Conservative party would need in excess of double its current percentage to make the vote close (though on 20% it would still lose substantially). What is interesting, is how close the position is for third place with a single percentage point separating the Lib Dems, Green and Reform UK parties at 8% respectively. It is telling that the Green party now has 8% and is growing fast, potentially overtaking the Lib Dems for third, but also showing the strength of views on this topic.  

Over the last six months, we have seen a large number of 'difficult' policies and laws like DRS, EPR or bans on promotions of HFSS food pushed back until 2025. In effect, this makes them someone else's problem, whether it is a different minister of their own party or (the more likely outcome) a different party all together. Will these policies ever actually become law? Even this strategy will not avoid other challenges such as the initial Covid Inquiry report, which is unlikely to be positive.

If there is a change in government, then there is much work to be done. At present, we do not have a material manifesto from either party to draw upon and give a clear indication of what the future may hold. But, it is hard not to agree with Keir Starmer that "Britain needs a mission-driven government to end short term sticking-plaster politics." This is particularly true of anything Brexit related. Of course, that is easy to say from the side but much more difficult to deliver. It will remain to be seen what approach Labour would take on regulation and how they would deal with the huge reformist agenda that the current government has embarked on. A new government will mean new focus with perhaps some topics, like the Product Safety Review that deliver little obvious economic benefit, being reconsidered. Whichever colour wins, as the UK continues to teeter on the edge of recession, hopefully this will give a reboot and stability for future growth.

The EU

In June, the EU Parliament elections will take place. This means workstreams for the current commission, that have not reached a certain position, will not continue and once the new Parliament is constituted a new Commission will be formed giving us oversight of the political direction it will take.

The current parliament and commission were working on 6 significant topics: A European Green Deal; A Europe Fit for the Digital Age; An Economy that Works for People; A Stronger Europe in the World; Promoting our European Way of Life; and A new Push for European Democracy. Each of these themes had substantial numbers of legislative initiatives sitting behind them. The Green Deal has 165 proposals of which 76 are adopted/ completed or close to adoption. A similar number is announced or tabled and that leaves their future status questionable.

The political uncertainty of the Ukraine war somewhat slowed the progress, however in 2023, the Commission put forward the EU-level targets for food waste reduction and a legislative proposal on the protection of animals during transport. Other proposals announced for 2023 include new legislation on food labelling, a legislative framework for sustainable food systems and the review of the EU school scheme legal framework. In H2 2023 it has felt like a tsunami of regulation coming forward, with new and significant changes on almost weekly basis.

There are several very significant proposals in the 'tabled' section that are nearing completion. These include the Green Claims proposal, which had 821 amendments tabled by MEPs in the joint committee. It is expected that the vote in the joint committee would take place in mid-February 2024. The file would then go to plenary in March 2024, so should be on course to become law before the elections. Other topics, like digital passports for detergents, and simplifying and digitising toy regulation, feature on the Commissions 2024 work programme with a good chance of also being completed in time.

Similarly, in the near completion section one can find the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CS3D). This reached the provisional agreement of the Parliament and Council on 14 December 2023 and the agreed draft law requires formal approval by the JURI Committee and the European Parliament as a whole, as well as by the Council before it can enter into force. While it has the 24 April meeting in which it may progress, if it does not pass it will be then held back to the new Parliament. Other proposals like the revision to the Toys regime is already in that position, where it awaits Parliament time but will not get it before the new one is formed.

Other measures, e.g. the refit of the Cosmetics regulation and the legislative framework for sustainable foods systems, seem unlikely to be progressed. The later hit significant political opposition and was expected to be tabled in the fourth quarter of 2023. However, the EU's current position is that it is not listed in the Commission work programme for 2024 and therefore it seems unlikely to come to fruition.

It also seems unlikely that the new EU Parliament and Commission will deviate massively from the sustainability and digitally focussed agenda, however, only time will tell.

The rest of the world

As business and supply chains are global, we cannot forget or underestimate the impact of elections in other countries.

In the US, while things have appeared relatively stable under Biden, a Trump White House is likely to result in at least initially more turbulence. The old favourites of the Mexico wall and dismantling the deep state currently being top of his policy list. Of more concern to business will be discussion about tariffs for imported goods. Reportedly up to 10%, as well as the ability for Trump to impose reciprocal tariffs on any country that imposed them on the US. As before, there is currently a significant focus on China and reliance on Chinese manufacturing and investment, though it is questionable whether domestic alternative resources currently exist. As always with early campaign claims, what actually happens remains to be seen. If Trump were to defeat Biden, it seems likely that there would be a return to the turbulence of 2016-2020 and the US would become more protectionist and inward looking.

A perhaps less obvious election that may have a major impact is that in Taiwan. The next president of Taiwan will be elected in January and will have the ability to determine the country's approach to China. This is significant, as China has long held a claim over Taiwan and has a policy that it will use military means against Taiwanese independence if a peaceful conclusion is not possible. Given that Taiwan would be unlikely to be able to defend itself without support from other nations, most notably the US, any escalation in this region has the potential to accelerate quickly with catastrophic consequences. In addition to humanitarian impact, given global supply chains' reliance on that region for goods, the inevitable disruption and sanctions would make the Ukraine response appear minimal by comparison.

For more insights also see our Global Consumer Trends 2024 article 'Top tips for protecting your supply chain'

Other significant locations with elections in the rest of 2024 include: India due to have an election by May, Pakistan and Indonesia in February, Bangladesh in January, Mexico in June and South Africa in the summer.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of these topics and what they mean for you and your business, please get in touch with our Consumer sector and Regulatory experts. 

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