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29 June 2020

272: Johnson government 2.0: The relaunch is underway

With the social and economic lockdowns coming at a gradual end, the political lockdown is ending too. This leaves Boris Johnson’s government in need of a jump-start and it will need help in getting going again.

Whilst Wales appears to be adopting a more cautious approach, the rest of the UK is gradually getting re-opened even if it is at a socially safe distance. For Johnson, now is the time to become the government that it hoped it would be following its big win back in December 2019. It had only a matter of weeks to move forward to deliver Brexit before the whole world ground to a halt.

In many ways it now has a clean slate and can, under the guise of the recovery from COVID-19, be more radical, challenging and not bound by traditional ideological positions. It is tempting to say that it is the ideal political canvas on which Dominic Cummings can draw his reforming agenda. Under these circumstances, it is clear why the PM was so keen to defend him during the recent ‘Barnard Castle-gate’.

So this delivers public affairs opportunities but only if we are prepared to grab them. The government are after ideas if they help them to deliver on their immediate priorities as well as those championed in their manifesto. The election may seem like a long time ago but this is the first opportunity there has been to think about the delivery of any of its ideas.

But for that public affairs advice to be effective, we also need to think in a number of ways:

  • Global – with Brexit definitely, finally happening at the end of the year whatever the government does needs to be outward looking and, ideally, bringing in some trade opportunities;
  • Deregulatory – the government will want to loosen constraints not impose them and that will be one of the themes of the July mini budget / stimulus package. Cutting red tape and deregulation is certainly not a recent invention but there is a real chance that this government is prepared look more favourably on cuts than previous ones;
  • Positive – the criticism of a lot of public affairs engagement, to say nothing of the campaigning around Brexit, is that it is too negative. It becomes a way of moaning about government policy rather than coming up with solutions or ideas to improve the situation. To put it another way, it is not constructive enough. This government wants a more positive and constructive approach to be adopted;
  • Levelling-up – this is likely to re-emerge as the mantra of the government not least because it can encompass dealing forcefully with a number of gaps that exist in the country – north / south economically, social mobility and racially. If Boris does see himself as a ‘Brexity Hezza’, a one nation mix of intervention, a free market and ambition then the big social issues facing the country need to be addressed.
  • Climate change – this may not be an immediate focus, post COVID-19, but will return as the COP26 meeting in Glasgow (1-12 November 2021) starts to approach. Many are arguing that is should also feature as part of the COVID-19 economic recovery package – everything from the boost of retro-fitting homes through to the development of future tech. It is a theme that could vary in its profile but will remain part of the thinking of government;
  • Financially literate – we have yet to see quite which way the government is going to go on the balance between constraining spending (‘austerity’ in old terms) and tax increases to pay for the COVID-19 support. It does mean, however, that very few cheques will be written outside of some of the big infrastructure projects that have already been talked about. That does not mean that some funding won’t be available if the economy needs a boost post-lockdown but any ideas put to them need careful planning and explanation; and
  • Timely – ideally ideas put to them can get results in the very short term. The government know that the next election will come around all too soon and it needs a track record of delivery to show by then.

So Boris now has a chance to put in place the government he would have been planning back in December 2019. It is up to those of us in public affairs to get the ideas to them.

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