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The PRCA has announced the shortlist for the fifth Douglas Smith Prize for best young public affairs practitioner in the UK. PubAffairs will be publishing the essays of all six shortlisted candidates in the run up to the 2017 Public Affairs Awards on Thursday 14th December at which the winner of the Prize will be announced.

The first round of the Prize asked candidates to submit an essay entitled “What impact does a minority Conservative Government have on the public affairs industry?”. The candidates have been interviewed on their essay and their wider work on the 28th November. Below is the entry submitted by Natasha Silkin, Senior Account Executive at PB Consulting.

You can also view the entries from Sam Evans, Cavendish Communications; Rhiannon Sanders, The Whitehouse Consultancy; Philippa Alway, Lodestone Communications; Liz Moore, PLMR; and Tanyka Davson, Weber Shandwick.


What impact does a minority Conservative Government have on the public affairs industry?

The election result in May of this year came as a surprise to many of us. A total Labour wipe out was expected, with the Conservatives set to reaffirm their position as the governing party ensuring they could deliver the ‘red, white and blue’ Brexit they had emphatically promised. As is the very nature of democracy, it was up to the electorate to judge this offer, and they decided this was not quite the vision they wanted. Instead, Theresa May found herself without a majority and with a "confidence and supply" arrangement with the DUP. Four months into a minority Conservative Government and it is up to the public affairs industry to carve the path they wish to tread and this means taking advantage of the opportunities this minority Government will afford us.

Minority governments are often seen as weak and unstable – ironically, a direct opposite of the kind of government May promised us. Historically, these governments pass little legislation as the focus shifts from pushing through manifesto pledges to avoiding defeat wherever possible. This tactic has so far been reflected in the Government’s first four months in power, with the Conservatives u-turning on some of their more controversial manifesto pledges such as fox hunting and the ‘dementia tax’.

However, whilst the minority Conservative Government is expected to be characterised by stagnation, this creates opportunities in other parts of Parliament. As every vote counts, Tory backbenchers will find their power has greatly increased, with Ministers needing to keep them onside more than ever. From a public affairs perspective, this means the range of parliamentarians with real power to effect change has widened. This provides a significant opportunity for the public affairs industry who will become a vital interlocutor between Select Committees, Bill Committees and backbenchers who have increasing prominence and clients wishing to influence the Government’s agenda.

The same can be said for the Opposition, who have found themselves a step closer to power. Unconceivable a year ago, Labour are now able to block and significantly amend government proposals, and can even push through polices of their own. This was highlighted when Stella Creasy was able to force the Government to change its policy on allowing Northern Irish women access to abortions in England in an attempt to stave off a rebellion on the Queen’s speech. This again provides opportunities for the public affairs industry to support their clients as a key facilitator between a newly credible Opposition and business.

Despite new opportunities to build relationships with increasingly influential backbench Tories and a Labour Party with their eyes set firmly on power, clients may still be concerned by the instability a minority Conservative government creates, coupled with concerns around Brexit. In times like these, it is up to the public affairs industry to support clients and help them navigate the uncertain waters and it is well placed to do so. The Public Affairs industry must support its clients in adapting to this ever changing political landscape. By the very nature of our work, the industry can ensure clients are informed and prepared for what happens next, and we are a crucial part of their business needs.

A minority Conservative government creates uncertainty by its very nature. But now is not the time for hysteria. Now is the time for the public affairs industry to do its job and to do it well. This means supporting our clients to take advantage of the opportunities this uncertainty creates, and building lasting relationships which may come to the fore in the coming months and years.