Political vigilance is needed

The Government’s recent Queen’s Speech was widely criticised for its lack of content outside of Brexit. But just because the legislative agenda looks a little thin shouldn’t mean that anyone takes the potential impact of government any less seriously. Vigilance is needed. Government will continue to operate even if it tries to avoid difficult or controversial issues in Parliament. As discussed in previous blogs, the minority status of the Conservative Party, even bolstered by its deal with the DUP, means that it will do all it can to avoid potential defeats in Parliament.
But the business of government takes place outside of the immediate walls of Parliament as well. Just remember:
  • Working through consultations and draft Bills – policies will remain to be worked up even if the prospect of imminent change or legislation seems remote. Governments often need to pick policies up quickly so will adopt what work has already been undertaken. Do not take a lack of imminent pressure as an excuse for a lack of ongoing engagement.  Such work is a way for Government to prove that they are still active and doing things.
  • ‘Rule by civil service’ – it could be argued that the officials will be the ones who are really in charge especially during the period of the Brexit process. With politicians in permanent campaign mode, officials will be the ones undertaking the detailed work of Government. If there is a lack of clear political direction then care needs to be taken that policies do not follow a direction that officials believe completely appropriate but that may not work well for you.
  • Need to campaign – there is the real of danger of inactivity by Government which can be just as damaging as constant interference. If difficult decisions can be put off, then they could well be put off. The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) recognised this when it chose to remind the Government about the key infrastructure development that the country still needs. The easiest thing for Government to do would be to put off decisions in the face of controversy, not least amongst its own MPs. So anyone involved in such projects, or similarly potentially challenging decisions, needs to maintain pressure on Government in possibly quite a public way. Even for projects who many believe are progressing, supporters need to keep reminding Government of the benefits.
  • Events…. – when everyone is watching, politicians have a tendency to grandstand. If legislation has, in effect, been removed as a tool in their armoury, politicians will seek to use the media to inflict reputational damage on organisations. That is not to say that direct intervention is ruled out but ‘naming and shaming’ is a quicker and easier way to have an impact and gain resonance with the electorate.
  • Not just Westminster – whilst we often focus on Westminster, the new mayors and devolved bodies will be only too happy to fill the political vacuum. Whether central Government will continue to devolve is unclear and this will, as with other policies, need to be pushed for hard. It is, however, the case that they have been given significant powers and finance so are keen to get on and achieve.
This all means that public affairs teams need to be especially vigilant and potentially fleet of foot when it comes to reacting to events. This means having the necessary scope for action and the internal reporting / sign-off lines in place.Then you can be vigilant and ready for action.
Picture credit: David Dibert
Stuart Thomson

Stuart is a public affairs and communications specialist at Bircham Dyson Bell LLP advising clients on all elements of their public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management. His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has worked on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes. Stuart is an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and is the author of several books including 'New Activism and the Corporate Response', 'Public Affairs in Practice' (for the CIPR) and 'The Dictionary of Labour Quotations' (published by Britain's leading political publisher, Biteback). 'New Activism and the Corporate Response' was called a book that "every aspiring business leader should read" by MIS Asia. Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues. Stuart recently released a book published by Urbane Publications, 'Public Affairs: News, Views and Hullabaloos' based on his blog. He is also a CIPR trainer and was shortlisted for the 2014 Director of the Year award by the IoD and CIPR.

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