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24 February 2020

258: Public affairs under a majority government

For the last ten years in Westminster, we have known nothing but coalition and minority governments. Boris’s sizeable election win last year put an end to all of that. Now we all have to get used to doing public affairs under a government with a majority. Just what does that really mean?

Having been in public affairs quite a long time means that I remember what it was like when a government had a large majority and prime ministers had real control. The years of coalition and minority governments meant building alliances, taking MPs seriously and paying attention to what parliament was up to.

What are the changes we should consider now we have a government with a majority again?

  • House of Lords – whilst the emphasis since the election has been on the House of Commons, the lords will be an even more critical component in the consideration of legislation and in holding the government to account.
  • Select Committees – their role in also holding the government to account is important under a majority government. Some will be more effective than others but do not assume that those chaired by a Labour, or other opposition, MP will perform better in this role than those chaired by a Conservative. There is an art to being a good chair.
  • Champions – organisations should think seriously about investing in the development of long-term relationships with parliamentarians. These will not be based on dipping in or out on a particular issue but instead spending time with those parliamentarians, especially MPs, who might work with you over a period of time. Again with a longer time frame in mind think about how best you can work with the new MPs who have come into parliament.
  • Being realistic – especially when a government has a large majority, what can reasonably be expected to be achieved needs to be thought about. Defeats are even more unlikely than they were before so expectation management needs to be factored in.
  • Long term, public campaigns? – if the chances of any immediate change of mind by the government is limited because of its ability to push ideas through parliament then the alternative may be the need for campaigns aimed at capturing public support (the voice of voters) and to do this over a longer period of time.
  • PPSs the role of parliamentary private secretaries to ministers could become more important again. Whilst backbench MPs may not wish to make their views known in public they may be prepared to work through the channels of PPSs.
  • No10 as highlighted in previous blogs, there is no doubt that No10 is beefing itself up. The new joint No10 / No11 advisory team should be proof enough but the recent reshuffle indicated that only those likely to defer to the prime minister and his team will be promoted. So the power of No10 is critical under this majority government.
  • Get involved not that it was ever really advisable to dip into policy making at the last minute but under a more delicately poised parliament it was at least feasible to make a last ditch attempt to get things changed. Under a majority, it will be more important to get involved at all stages of policy development and to make positions known over the longer term.

These are just a few thoughts and ideas but there is no doubt that the day-to-day realities will be very different. Many people in public affairs simply haven’t had to operate under these types of conditions!

I, for one, am looking forward to working with clients as a majority government starts to work on its policies and implement its ideas.

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