In the run up to a general election there is generally a noticeable rush amongst agencies to hire consultants with strong links with the party deemed most likely to form the next government. However, with the outcome of 2015’s poll so difficult to predict, the trend this time around has been more one of consultancies hedging their bets.
This seems a far cry from the days preceding and following the 2010 general election. For a while, it seemed that getting hired by a well-respected consultancy was pretty tough for anyone without a bona fide Tory pedigree. An argument could be made that this made sense for consultancies simply looking to add an extra edge when hiring proven and experienced public affairs consultants.
Regrettably, there were also notable examples of consultancies hiring people purely on the basis of their connections with CCHQ. This is bad for the reputation of our industry, and bad for the firm making the hire: any modern lobbyist worth their salt knows that it is really what you know, rather than who, that counts in contemporary public affairs. Of the people hired because of their perceived closeness to Tory high command around 2010, I can think of very few who are still in post, and of very many who have since left the industry altogether.
Mid-way through the coalition’s tenure many agencies did rush to bolster their Labour credentials by hiring consultants with ties to Miliband’s party. For many, this was to re-balance after disproportionately focusing on Conservative consultants, but for others this was an attempt at ‘crystal ball gazing’ – rather prematurely in my view, many viewed a Labour majority as almost a foregone conclusion, and adjusted their hiring plans accordingly. There was also a move amongst a sizeable number of outfits to recruit consultants with a strong Lib-Dem background (many of those hires are now thinking about moving before May 2015 – there is a perception that their stock might be rather lower come the morning of May the 8th).
So what does all this mean for the strongly aligned public affairs professional considering a move before next year’s election? At the moment, nothing much. Bar the odd agency sensibly looking to ensure that their political makeup is relatively balanced, currently there is not a strong bias in favour of any political persuasion. There does remain a preference amongst very many agencies to hire consultants who are politically active and engaged in their private lives (a good thing in my view); but thankfully, for the moment at least, the days of hiring on the basis of ‘picking winners’ does seem behind us.
My advice continues to be to hire on merit, ability, and experience, not on the basis of affiliation. This approach yields what consultancies’ clients, and our industry as a whole, need most – agencies staffed by consultants from across the political spectrum, able to give informed political counsel on a cross-party basis.