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 Tanyka Davson, Assistant Account Executive at Weber Shandwick.
You can also view the entries from Sam Evans, Cavendish Communications; Rhiannon Sanders, The Whitehouse Consultancy; Natasha Silkin, PB Consulting; Philippa Alway, Lodestone Communications; and Liz Moore, PLMR.
What impact does a minority Conservative Government have on the public affairs industry?
The Prime Minister’s call for a snap election to ‘strengthen her hand’ in Brexit negotiations and provide stability for Britain, by all accounts appears to have backfired. The election results, announced in June, were the peak of political turmoil, heightened by the chaos caused by the EU referendum a year earlier. Contrary to predictions, the results of the 2017 general election saw tanking support for the Tories who were forced into a confidence and supply deal with the DUP in order to maintain power. As with any election the pause on political activity due to purdah posed an immediate operational challenge for political consultants, however the effects of this chaotic and destabilised minority government are likely to persist for an extended period of time.
Strong and stable
The election result sparked feelings of uncertainty across several markets and industries. Britain’s stability was, and still is, considered to be heading in the wrong direction and companies are calling on public affairs consultants to provide guidance through extremely muddy waters. The appetite is growing for political consultancy providing an opportunity for growth in the public affairs industry. However, in this continuously shifting landscape providing clear and long-lasting political advice is becoming increasingly difficult.
A minority government has intensified Brexit concerns and has raised questions over the Prime Minister’s position and the potential for another election. The government is considered to be divided and vulnerable by both consumers and industry, this is expected to result in a pullback in spending and has shown signs of negatively impacting Britain’s economy. In the turbulent environment created by a minority government, content and analysis produced by the public affairs industry is considered to be invaluable.
The general election result has left political parties fragmented, resulting in a government that is lacking in authority and influence. Underwhelming support for the Conservatives indicates a rejection of their manifesto - the government is now likely to modify their initial offering in order to garner support where they can. However, Labour’s unanticipated success has prolonged tensions over the leadership and direction of the party, presenting them as a weak and divided opposition. The Prime Minister, cabinet members and leading MPs are being forced to tame their views and policies in order to avoid further criticism, and parliamentarians continue to be hyper-aware of their actions and fearful of disapproval. For the public affairs industry the lack of decisiveness and clarity in government obstructs long-term strategy and planning. The industry also faces the task of motivating reluctant and non-committal parliamentarians.
A shift in the dynamic of parliament means that the public affairs industry must adjust its traditional approach to political engagement. A divided parliament results in a widened net of interested stakeholders providing new opportunities for the public affairs industry. Cross-party engagement will prove vital in understanding the positions of those in government and pushing forward new agendas. A minority government has also enhanced the voice of backbenchers and peers, extending opportunities for consultants to engage with new and influential stakeholders.
Whilst diversity of views in parliament can be an advantage, a minority is also sluggish and inefficient with policies and legislation requiring overwhelming support in order for action to take place. The uphill struggle for political backing requires the public affairs industry to expand engagement and secure support from a range of stakeholders in order to promote change. With a minority government decreasing efficiency in the House of Commons the public affairs industry will need to work harder in rallying support for their cause. In addition to this, the election of a minority government has caused Parliamentarians to become distracted - policies and legislation unconnected to Brexit are likely to be stagnating in interest and garnering attention or time for these issues poses another challenge for the industry.
The DUP’s role in supporting the Conservative minority is a key question faced by the public affairs industry. Analysing the government’s relationship and the agreement with the DUP can provide some indication of the government’s objectives in the coming term. DUP leader Arlene Foster’s opposition to a hard Brexit and support for policies such as the triple lock on pensions and winter fuel allowance has been seen to influence the Conservatives in watering down their legislative agenda. Although the confidence and supply agreement suggests DUP’s unwavering support for the Conservatives this new dynamic in parliament is one that the public affairs industry will need to monitor closely.
Focus on the local
In agreeing a deal with the DUP the Conservative government committed to investing £1bn in Northern Ireland, this deal was widely criticised by other devolved governments who are becoming increasingly vocal in calls for investment in their respective regions. The dissolution of authority in government has refocused attention on local voices with devolved nations becoming increasingly prevalent on the national stage. For the public affairs industry the dispersion of authority in government and growing consideration to local influencers, requires a refocus in attention to the growing impact of regional leaders and devolved governments.
Although the election of a Conservative minority government indicates a turbulent and challenging road ahead for everyone involved in the political sphere, the recent general election demonstrated a shift in an approach to politics that has proven insightful for the public affairs community. Despite suspected political fatigue, the snap election brought out voters in their droves, particularly young people who have since displayed mounting political interest. Campaigning during the general election demonstrated the effectiveness of social media and a change in the expectations placed on politicians - insights such as this should now be considered for use in all public affairs campaigns. A Conservative minority is the result of a changing political environment and can be used by the public affairs industry to update the way we engage with political content. The splintered nature of the current Conservative government calls on the public affairs industry to utilise cross-party networking skills and look beyond the traditional channels of communication.