198: It’s all about Parliament
For a long time public affairs has had to consider a range of stakeholders, advisers, influencers, communications channels and campaigning techniques but now it’s time to refocus on Parliament.
In some ways the approach can be considered a little ‘old fashioned’. Instead of concentrating on advisers, high profile campaigns or the media, this approach is really about building a cross-party network across Parliament.
Circumstances change so public affairs tactics and approaches need to change. Mrs May’s lack of a Parliamentary majority combined with an apparently unstable leadership means that risk is increased.
So you need to consider a party that may stay in Government until 2022, the chances of a new leader for the same party as well as the prospects for a new party entering government. That is to say nothing of the chances for Brexit and / or early General Elections. Politics may be really interesting at the moment but that makes the public affairs approach more complex. Just take a look at the recent churn amongst No 10 advisers and those around Ministers as well.
There will, of course, be different approaches required depending on the issue, especially if it is Brexit-related. However, the need to develop a wider Parliamentary network and to stay active in Parliamentary matters should be a fundamental building block.
Whilst Government legislation may be thin on the ground, especially over a two-year period, that does not mean that Parliament will do nothing! Instead, Parliamentarians will want to keep scrutinising Government and will look for ways to do that.
Parliament is, once again, the place that Government feels the pressure. Yes, they will react to media scrutiny and pressure but the very real prospect of defeats in Parliament is a preoccupation. Defeats mean the Government looks weak, puts the PM under the spotlight and could, ultimately, lead to a change in government (leader, if not party). With massive government majorities, Parliament could feel itself side-lined or excluded. Not now, though.
For clients, this means being aware of what is taking place in Parliament and following up on all those opportunities whether they be debates in Westminster Hall or following up on questions being asked.
The role of all Party groups as spaces for sharing information but also as conduits for information is important.
Engaging with Select Committees will not just be focused on the quest to protect reputations but on the development of policy and the opportunities to work with Parliamentarians.
When I say Parliament, that also means a laser-like focus on constituency MPs as well. Being available for them, keeping them informed of developments and providing opportunities for community engagement, may sound obvious but it should now be in sharp focus once again.
In essence, if you want to achieve anything in the current climate you need to think about the Parliamentary arithmetic and that means have a network across both Houses and all parties. That needs effort to build and maintain and puts Parliament not just at the heart of political life but also public affairs life.