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The class of 2005

The political rumour mill is buzzing with speculation about when exactly the general election will take place.

Some in the Conservative Party, including William Hague, believe that an election could be called as early as April, breaking the traditions of a May event and putting opposition parties on the back foot both financially and strategically.

Tony Blair was thought recently to be about to break the silence when rumours started to circulate that he intended to call a brigade of PPCs to London from the most marginal seats across the country. As it turned out, this was a PR initiative to galvanise supporters rather than set a date for the election.

This media swordplay aside, the intensity of the current political jousting suggests that we can expect an ann-ouncement very soon although I would be surprised if it is brought forward. Lab-our, confident of victory, is unlikely to take gambles on early doors.

With the Budget over now this week, a general election on May 5 appears to be a racing certainty.

With Parliamentary business starting to stagger to a halt, a growing number of MPs have already disappeared from Westminster.

This includes a number of high-profile members of the Treasury select committee such as Norman Lamb and Nigel Beard. Both have fights on their hands for re-election and are likely to pay less attention to the financial world in the coming weeks.

Many in financial services will be wondering what we can expect from a new Parliament once the dust has settled.

As well as a potential new wave of eager MPs with an interest in financial services for the industry to start developing dialogues with, we can also expect a number of existing Parliamentarians to get promotions.

This means a potentially very different landscape, with a new breed of MPs who should know their split caps from their precipice bonds. New relationship building will be a key focus after May so the new Parliament has an effective communications channel with the industry.

From the Conservatives, who usually fill the benches with a number of MPs with a City or wider financial services interest, expect big things from the already established George Osborne.

Part of the 1997 entry, he has risen rapidly and is known to be in Michael Howard’s inner circle of bright young things. He has a classic Tory background, with an Eton/ Oxbridge education combined with a fresh face and dynamism which is unusual among the current crop of Tories.

Already Treasury Shadow Chief Secretary, Osborne is talked about as the next Shadow Chancellor if Letwin, who is in a fierce battle to retain his West Dorset constituency, meets a sudden electoral dem-ise in May.

MEP Theresa Villiers and James Duddridge, who are both expected to be elected in May, will also bolster the Tory financial services contingent. The highly rated Villiers cut her professional teeth as a barrister and lecturer before being elected to the Brussels set in 1999. Since then, she has built up a commanding reputation in the European financial services scene and rapid promotion beckons.

Duddridge, a former director at Barclays, is expected to take a tough approach to overregulation of the industry. Seen as one of the young turks of the prospective intake, he will rise up the ladder fast.He is also likely to be a future participant in all-party groups and select committees, injecting younger blood into the Tory contingent.

Of the Liberal Democrats, more can be expected from David Laws and Lamb but, like Letwin, Lamb has a tough battle on his hands.

Highly regarded Laws is very much on the right of the party and has senior-level experience at Barclays. He is already leading from the front and could be the next LibDem Shadow Chancellor after Vincent Cable.

Also expect to hear great things from MEP Chris Huhne and former MEP Nick Clegg at Westminster, if Huhne comes through what could be a close-run contest with Tory candidate Conor Burns in Eastleigh.

Huhne, like Villiers, has crafted his trade within the European Parliament and played a key role in the development of the Lamfalussy process. He is highly rated and would bolster the ranks of an already strong LibDem Treasury team.

Clegg, a former MEP and regular Guardian columnist, was a spokesman for trade and industry. He and Huhne are likely to add fresh impetus to the LibDem progress of the last seven years.

Turning to Labour, Stephen Timms is likely to see out the year in his second term as Treasury financial secretary if, as we all expect, Labour is re-elected for a third time, so do not expect any surprise promotions or demotions within the Treasury.

James Purnell, former PPS to Ruth Kelly when at the Treasury, is in line for promotion into the Government, having been on the fringes looking in for some time.

Also expect movements within the all-powerful Treasury select committee, with James Plaskitt moving onwards and upwards. Plaskitt, who took what were once Tory heartlands in Warwick and Leamington, has carved out a strong power base within the committee.

The thoughtful and measured Plaskitt is likely to continue his key themes based on reform of the financial services industry. There are likely to be a number of further investigations by the committee on particular issues, including mortgage endowments and split caps, and Plaskitt is set to play a key role.

Then, of course, there is Labour’s secret weapon – Ed Balls.

Perhaps best known for his presence behind Gordon Brown within the Treasury, he was immortalised by Michael Heseltine’s now infamous comment: “It’s not Brown,it’s Balls” in response to Brown’s notorious commitment to “neoclassical endogenous growth theory”.

Balls is likely to be fasttracked, given his already substantial Government experience, making him a likely serious decision-maker within the financial services scene. He has a strong Labour pedigree. His wife, Yvette Cooper, is already a minister of good standing and so another potentially potent Commons duo could be created.

Nick Cuff is senior associate at Cicero Consulting

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