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Last week’s byelection result in Rochdale underlines – if such a reminder was needed – that British politics right now is seriously unpredictable. Four weeks ago, anyone predicting anything but a Labour victory would have been treated with derision.

Anyone suggesting that the return of George Galloway to frontline politics was nigh would have been quietly led away. But it is, as Mrs Thatcher once observed, “a funny old world”. Unless, of course, you are trying, as are so many across the industry, to anticipate the public policy environment post-general election.

It was already tricky enough. Labour has been very quiet about its intentions for the industry – though my advice is to ‘think Henry Dimbleby’ – and the various Conservative governments of the past decade have taken wildly varying approaches. Moreover, the continuing legacies of Covid and Brexit create a challenging landscape both for those who aspire to govern and for those of us who are charged with helping business navigate it.

One particular concern is often overlooked. The post-devolution constitutional settlement hands responsibility for most food and farming matters to the parliaments in Holyrood and Cardiff, and the assembly in Belfast. Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Westminster are each run by different and competing political parties. Each has a very different view of our industry.

That can be a recipe for real trouble – witness the recent angry protests by Welsh farmers, the Scottish government’s radical stance on HFSS foods, the difficulties over dual regulation in Northern Ireland, and the emerging row over Westminster’s ‘not for EU’ labelling. Put another way, the issues raised by what seems like umpteen different systems and timetables for deposit recycling schemes are just the tip of a very large iceberg.

To these self-inflicted domestic woes, we must now add tumultuous geopolitics. A second Trump presidency is an extremely real possibility. With it will come further deconstruction of global free trade. ‘America first’ means exactly what it says on the tin. Companies that do business in the US are already rethinking their business models, but the practicalities of such change will be expensive and distracting.

Over the last two years, war in Ukraine has killed and maimed tens of thousands on both sides. It has also had huge consequences for food and drink supply chains. Now the conflict in Gaza has wrought more human devastation. For business in the UK, it has brought major increases in cost and delivery time for products from Asia, as action by Yemeni forces in the Red Sea pushes international shipping out of the Suez Canal and around the Cape of Good Hope.

Gaza has also created a new dividing line in British public opinion. It is one that has the potential to rival Brexit in the depth of feeling it evokes and the far-reaching disruption it may cause. Which brings me back to George Galloway. Depending on the backing he receives and the resources he can command, the cat in the hat could deliver the political version of tying Keir Starmer’s shoelaces together, and making him stumble on the road to Downing Street.

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Many businesses have made discreet and limited co-operation with an incoming Labour government a cornerstone of their strategic planning. I know several, actually many, CEOs who are ready to welcome the stability and consistency of direction they expect the economy to receive under the widely respected Rachel Reeves and the very impressive Jonny Reynolds. But the confidence that these two will have the cushion of a Blair-like majority may not survive contact with reality.

Galloway has a feral instinct for tapping up voters enraged by UK politicians’ perceived lack of action on Gaza. It is just possible a Galloway-Corbyn (remember him?) alliance could emerge to cause some real problems for Labour in dozens of target urban constituencies. Meanwhile, if – a big if – Nigel Farage returns to lead Reform into the election, we could see half a dozen ‘2019 red wall’ seats denied to Starmer by that intervention. All of a sudden Labour’s path to victory is strewn with obstacles and potholes.

Of course, none of this may happen. It does sound somewhat far-fetched. But the job of people like me is to ask business leaders to think ‘what might happen?’ and ‘what should we do if it does?’ For years, risk registers across the industry and beyond listed events like a Brexit vote or global pandemic as extremely costly and extremely unlikely. The risk mitigation plans were consequently risible.

Hopefully we have all learned to take nothing quite so for granted. Which is why thinking about the possible implications of the extraordinary events in Rochdale should be somewhere on the agenda of every food and drink business this week.