The announcement of a snap General Election surprised most people. Some may have planned for the implications but many had taken the Prime Minister at her word, and did not believe that one would take place until 2020 or maybe a little before. But what does a General Election mean for public affairs? It is useful to split the election period into three distinct periods.
Before purdah kicks in and the dissolution of Parliament it is necessary to check if any work needs to be finished. This is particularly true in relation to Bills that are still progressing and project announcements that might be expected. Will purdah delay any decisions that are expected? Do you need to put plans in place?
The parties will also finish selecting their candidates, especially with such an expected decision this time around, so some old friends may disappear.
This may be the most exciting period for political geeks but is where the real decisions need to be made. Businesses and other organisations, it appears, need to be increasingly aware of being drawn into election campaigns but can also make the most of potential opportunities as well.
The public affairs team not only need to be reading the speeches and commitments coming out of all the political parties, but need to keep a constant eye on the social media feeds for comments. This election is likely to be particularly social because of the success the Conservatives had online in 2015 but also because Corbyn drew success online in his leadership election bids as well. Given the very tight level of control that the Conservatives and Lynton Crosby will try to exert, the media too will be seeking out every opportunity to look for new issues and angles. This level of unpredictability means public affairs teams need to be on their guard. Policies made on the hoof by politicians tend to be less well considered and may require action.
The manifestos will, of course, provide the blueprint of what the parties want to do should they enter Government. But rather than simply waiting, if there are policies that need action then teams could start to plan now and get their arguments in place. Swift action may be needed and that should take place quickly after an election, at the latest, rather than waiting for the policy to take root and fester. New stars can also emerge during an election campaign and therefore new contacts for a new Parliament.
So that leaves teams with the snog, marry, avoid conundrum:
- Snog – cautious welcome for the new policies or ideas
- Marry – come out strongly in support
- Avoid – keep well away from the election and just consider it too political
Once all the votes have been counted and the new Government formed, there will be new people to contact, relationships to re-establish, policies to re-energise or new battles to be fought. A new Queen’s Speech will take place and new Bills to engage with. We start all over again.
Critically, it is important not to get too obsessed by the politics of the election. Instead, a focus needs to be maintained on the risks and opportunities, before, during and after. No-one can really guarantee the outcome…