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18 January 2019

228: Sometimes you do need to shout

Using all the means at your disposal to shout about an issue is rarely the best way to deal with Government. But sometimes the circumstances dictate it. Brexit now calls for shouting.

Organisations do not like to stand too close to the political flame. They worry about the long term implications and the potential regulatory or reputational damage that could come in some form of retaliation. There can also be concern about how customers, donors or other stakeholders will react as well. Government normally reacts badly to be shouted at especially if it hasn’t been given adequate opportunity to deal with the issue.

But for many, the situation with Brexit is now so serious that there is little choice but to raise the volume. The timescales involved, the apparent inability of Government to find a solution or come to any conclusions is limiting the scope of activity.

Many will choose to work with their trade or representative bodies. But given that they have to balance often competing views, they may not be as robust as some would wish them to be. Others can be reluctant to change, or develop, a position once it has been agreed (which can have taken an awfully long time to craft!).

But two recent business examples show that this can happen. London First has developed its position to push for a second referendum and have pushed it through channels such as Politico’s London Playbook. The CBI meanwhile felt able to issue very strongly worded criticism of John McDonnell’s plans made during his speech at the party conference. Some will be looking for them to shout just as loudly on the Brexit issue rather than the current more conciliatory tone.

In current circumstances, adopting a more vocal position is also not just about letting Government know. It should also be considering a wider Parliamentarian audience as well. Having a clear idea of your audience and what they can really do is just as important as in any other public affairs setting.

It is, of course, perfectly possible to make a vocal case for any position on Brexit – deal, no deal etc. Both sides need to hear from supporters. However, given the position currently adopted by Mrs May – no changes to her red lines, no extension to Article 50, no ruling out No Deal etc – then those looking for changes in those position need to be particularly active.

Certainly time is running out but it is also the case that the ‘proper channels’ have been exhausted. Everyone has information to government departments, has delivered the information and data that politicians have demanded but little has happened. Many feel that there is a disconnect between these official policy making channels and the political decisions taking place. The link has been lost. The only decision being made in relation to Brexit are political ones.

So under these circumstances, a louder voice is needed and the justification is there. This is not simply a knee-jerk reaction but a perfectly sensible response to the position that organisations find themselves in.

Of course, adopting a louder voice is not risk free but this needs to be balanced against the risks of the alternative.

If anyone feels strongly then now is the time to shout.

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