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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 Sam Evans, Account Executive at Cavendish Communications.

You can also view the entries from Rhiannon Sanders, The Whitehouse Consultancy; Natasha Silkin, PB Consulting; 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?

For those of us in Public Affairs, the hours after an exit poll and lead up to declaration of results around the 650 constituencies is always one of intrigue; seeing which bell weather seats are indicating a particular outcome or a voting trend in areas of the UK.

As practioners we are also inevitably trying to ascertain where the balance of power lies, whilst being inundated with requests from clients for any nuggets of information we may. This year’s election night was no different - waiting with baited breath to see what the night had in store - would Theresa survive? Will there be a hung Parliament? Will the DUP hold the balance of power?

In the early hours of June the 9th it became clear that May would hold on; but for how long? Suddenly the Conservatives went from a party with a working Government majority to a minority party consisting of various factions – Tory right, with members belonging to European Research Group; Tory left, Scottish Tories and the all – important 1922 committee with a range of senior Conservative backbenchers, led by the influential Graham Brady.

The Tory right, affiliated closely with the European Research Group, continues to push for a hard Brexit and amidst all the uncertainty over our ‘divorce’ bill with the European Union, want Britain out of the EU single market and customs union.

Whilst they have been effective in keeping up the pressure and have the ear of influential Eurosceptic Cabinet Minister Liam Fox, it could be argued that the  left wing of the Conservative party fit in well with May’s domestic agenda on issues such as housing and social reform. Looking at May’s inner team overseen by Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell, Head of the Number 10 Policy Board, George Freeman, and consisting of key Ministers Damian Green, Amber Rudd and Phillip Hammond all have direct lines to the PM. We have also seen Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve promoting the virtues of remaining in the EU and MPs and the likes of Heidi Allen, who was central to the Treasury dropping proposed tax credit changes, have shown the difference that a Commons rebellion can make.

The Scottish Tories have proven to be an integral part of the Party and have been shown over the past four months to be working together, pushing for a soft Brexit trajectory with various questioning in the Chamber. Indeed, the Scottish conservatives and Ruth Davidson, in her role as the king maker par excellence, know that their elections are solely the reason why Theresa May is still residing in Number 10 and they are not afraid to assert their authority. It’s important to note that relationship between this group and the Conservative Left is absolutely critical. They have so far been fairly loyal, but for how long?

Despite the various tiers that exit in the current minority Conservative Government, it is evident that they are all keen to hear the views of outside organisations, reflecting the interests of what people outside of the SW1 bubble or, in other words, voters, are thinking of.

Many commentators are predicting that the next Conservative Leader will ‘skip’ a generation, suggesting the likes of 2015 intake Johnny Mercer, James Cleverly and Tom Tugenhat are looking likely to make their mark through causes. Backbenchers and those on maneuverers are increasingly looking for a populist cause to back, whilst Government is conscious that they need to listen to more than what civil servants are saying and other on what the public and businesses.

With a rejuvenated Labour party, boosted following an unexpected gain of 30 seats and control of previously unthinkable seats turning red such as Kensington and Canterbury, a minority Conservative administration has also meant that Labour are ‘being taken’ seriously after originally being dismissed for two years since Corbyn’s ascension.

Those in a position of power may be of the view that with the above in mind, their time in office could be rather limited so they will have an eye on the future how to best make their mark in what could be a very short period in office. Issues previously dismissed as minor or “fringe issues” are often the most important ones to people’s lives, and indeed the voting public, and businesses and charities will need to push hard to make sure they aren’t simply ignored.

With little else other than Brexit dominating the political agenda, no more apparent than the decision not to hold the Queen’s Speech in 2018, highlighting that there will be little else outside of Brexit discussion and minimising the number of times that the Government could be defeated, let alone on its own legislation. It could be suggested there is enough room for those of us in public affairs to present our case and make sure the voices of those we represent are heard in the corridors of power, whether that be in Westminster and Whitehall.

It is hard to make a prediction on how long this precarious political may go on for, but for us within the world of Public Affairs there certainly hasn’t a moment to lose to deliver change in a fast-moving environment. Now is the time for businesses to use our services and get their voices heard.