273: Beware damaged political relationships
The Covid period has been challenging for engagement with Government. Many organisations have had to fight hard for support. As we enter a different phase there may be damaged political relationships that need to be repaired.
The ways in which particularly financial support was secured varied between sectors. Some appeared to be higher on the Government’s priority lists than others. Indeed some, such as live music venues have now gone for a very high profile approach in recent days. An open letter signed by the likes of Sir Paul McCartney said:
‘Government has addressed two important British pastimes – football and pubs – and it’s now crucial that it focuses on a third, live music.’
This has led to extensive media coverage and has put the Government under very public pressure. Those involved obviously believed that such a high-profile statement was needed. But similar pressure has been suggested by others but did not have to come to fruition. In other cases, personal letters from very senior leaders have had to be sent to secure a deal.
In other cases, despite the existence of good existing relationships, there have had to be some pretty fundamental ‘educational’ conversations that have had to take place.
All this can damage political relationships. With Brexit coming up quickly there could be more difficult conversations to be had and these may have to be in public.
So how should you handle damaged relationships?
- Spread your net – this should focus on developing contacts more widely across the relevant departments but also across departments as well. So the aim would be think more widely than may have otherwise have been the case. So that should include ministers and officials. Departments are not always very good at speaking to each other and in the case of damaged relationships that may be no bad thing!
- Think about your wider stakeholders – these audiences will appreciate understanding why you have made certain decisions. It could inform their own engagement but they may also be willing to help support your positions in future. They may also put a good word in for you.
- Cross-party efforts – just because you are finding one set of political relationships difficult, there may be others available to you. These could be more influential or powerful at different times but will, without doubt, need to know about you and your issues.
- Put steps in to continue engagement – these could be across Parliament working with backbench MPs and Peers, through All Party Groups and, of course, engaging constructively with Select Committees. Just because you may have alienated some former friends does not mean that you lose your specialist expertise and insight so look for ways to continue to demonstrate that (potentially though thought leadership as well).
- Consider public support if something goes well – there is always the chance to rebuild bridges as well. So do not be too proud to engage in a of ingratiating. The odd well placed public comment for a good measure or something a little more constituency-based for individual MPs can help remind people of your worth.
The damage to relationships is not, most of the time, irreparable but it does need a plan of action to be put in place. It will not happen without effort. It is critical to have that plan of action in place.